Cannes Film Festival to Feature UTEP Student’s Work

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

Nineteen-year-old Leo Aguirre’s passion is film, and it’s taking him around the world.

In May, Aguirre will head to the 2014 Cannes Film Festival — one of the world’s largest and most respected celebrations of cinema — where his short film El Fuego Detrás will be screened as part of a highly selective showcase.

Pictured is the official poster for UTEP student Leo Aguirre’s short film, which will be screening at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
Pictured is the official poster for UTEP student Leo Aguirre’s short film, which will be screened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Backing a belief that nurturing young talent pays big dividends in the future and armed with proof that many nascent filmmakers first make their mark via short films, the festival launched the Cannes Short Film section in 2011, calling it a “complementary dynamic in an attempt to offer an all-encompassing panorama of the young production worldwide.”

Aguirre’s short will screen outside of the actual competition, but within a very professional arena where he will be able to meet potential collaborators, distributors and investors. He will also be able to attend workshops and conferences specifically geared toward short filmmakers at Cannes’ Palais des Festivals complex.

Before the film and its maker head across the ocean in May, Aguirre will be giving UTEP and the El Paso community-at-large a sneak peak of El Fuego Detrás when he screens it 6 p.m. Saturday, April 19 at the Union Cinema. Aguirre’s previous short, Back of Beyond — which won the Jury Award at the 2013 Aruba International Film Festival —will also be screened with a Q-and-A session to follow.

The event is free for the public, but donations will be accepted with all proceeds going toward the new Miner Film Society, which was founded by Aguirre and other collaborators who hope to shoot their first production this summer.

El Fuego Detrás packs a lot of punch into its 16-minute running time. Its plot follows a suicidal writer whose life becomes entangled with that of a young immigrant girl when an unexpected crime is committed. The film is set in El Paso and was shot over one weekend in late January.

“We worked extremely quickly. It was kind of like trying to run on water,” Aguirre said. He had help from local cast and crew, including the film’s co-writer and male lead Brian Ceely, who is a freshman theatre performance major. While Ceely has been acting on the stage for years, this was only his second foray into film. His cinematic acting debut Fort Bliss, starring Michelle Monaghan, will be released later this year.

El Fuego Detrás is the first short that I’ve helped to create from concept to wrap,” Ceely said. “Leo and I met in December and shared a love of film and art, so we decided to write and shoot this film together. We both wrote it, and while he took on the role of director and editor, I acted in it and I drew the storyboards. It was a truly collaborative experience.”

Ceely is hopeful their Cannes participation will result in productive connections on a global level. He also is grateful for what his time at UTEP has already given him when it comes to his professional aspirations.

“I have learned more from UTEP than I ever thought I could learn,” he said. “Joel Murray, Chuck Gorden and Rebecca Rivas are teachers who have helped me and so many others to hone our craft as actors and to whom I am very grateful. The experience of doing shows here is phenomenal.”

Aguirre was born in El Paso but completed high school in Aruba due to his father’s job. He made his first short film when he was just 16 during a summer digital filmmaking workshop in his temporary Caribbean homeland. Under his production company banner Novum Indie Films, Aguirre has completed three short films to date, including El Fuego Detrás and Back of Beyond. His previous short film Siblings scored an audience award at the 2013 Cine las Americas International Film Festival.

Aguirre’s ambitious goals include directing a full-length feature film before he completes his bachelor’s degree. While he is focused on succeeding as screenwriter and film director, he also is looking at directing commercials to ensure his financial well-being.

Before all of that, he has to get to France.

“Attending Cannes is very expensive, so I am currently looking for sponsors that can aide me financially,” Aguirre said, explaining that airfare alone is more than $1,500 and lodging, meals and local transportation add much more to the price tag. He encourages potential donors to contact him at and hopes the April 19 screening of El Fuego Detras will also result in sponsorship prospects for his trip.

For this young, hardworking film lover, it means the world to have been handpicked to show his work among the best of the best at Cannes.

“If someone last year had told me that I would be attending the Cannes Film Festival this year, I would not have believed him or her,” Aguirre said. “Cannes is one of the world’s most prestigious festivals, so being able to attend at my age is a great privilege.”