All Over the Map
The Far-reaching focus of the Taos Talking Picture Festival
The unique natural beauty of the northern New Mexico town of Taos and the vibrant creative community that is home to three distinct ethnic cultures adds to the easy allure of the Taos Talking Picture Festival, which ran from April 10 to 13. Despite the financial woes common to all film festivals these days, TTPF, now in its ninth year, has managed to maintain its unique identity. The festival's stated mission is "to encourage the thoughtful production and informed consumption of moving images and to celebrate cinema, its audience, and its artists." And though TTPF has its share of glitzy and star attractions, the festival has stayed remarkably true to its regional identity and social conscience. Films are programmed that address the economic disparities of the area in which great wealth and great poverty exist side by side with little elbow room for a comfortable middle class. Also addressed is the area's cultural diversity. Films by Southwestern artists and films that speak to specific Native American and Latino concerns are presented along with some of the best American and international independent productions. An additional annual component of the festival is the Teen Media Forum and Media Conference, which this year hosted Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum. The festival's commitment to media education and literacy is everywhere in evidence.
One example of this was the Chicano Satirists presentation, a program that received the festival's Cineaste Award. Featuring stand-up comedy, film, video, and slide presentations, this showcase presented some of the provocative work of filmmaker Alex Rivera and the creators of Pocho magazine and Pocho.com, Lalo Lopez Alcaraz and Esteban Zul, among others. Funny, pointed, and dripping with the reappropriated imagery and language, the showcase gave center stage to marginalized voices.
One of the most notable aspects of TTPF is its unusual top prize: a gift of five acres of land on Taos' Cerro Montosa to "a filmmaker who demonstrates a passion and inventiveness in telling our stories. The plan: to help seed a filmmaking community in Taos." A very unusual and nice idea, even though the reality is that it will be quite some time before the idea of a community is viable since the generous prize land is currently nothing more than undeveloped acreage out on the mesa. Past winners have included Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) and Lukas Moodysson (Together). And 2002 delivered someone who promises to be a good addition to the community: actor/director Campbell Scott, whose Off the Map earned him the award.
Filmed last year in the Taos area, Off the Map seemed a shoo-in for popular favorite -- especially when coupled with the fact that Scott was also in Taos as this year's recipient of the festival's annual Maverick Award. However, I almost made the mistake of dismissing the film without seeing it. But then I noticed it stars Joan Allen, which automatically makes it of extra interest, and also that the festival had added additional screenings of the Campbell Scott-directed film. I saw it at its last sold-out screening and am happy I did. Definitely falling sway to the idea of New Mexico as an enchanted land, Off the Map is nevertheless a lovely character study of one unusual family and their influence over the course of some months and years. Beautifully told and photographed, the film also stars Sam Elliott as the clinically depressed mate of Joan Allen, and co-stars Valentina de Angelis, the best new young actress I've seen in a while.
Scott was also in town to promote his starring turn in director Alan Rudolph's The Secret Lives of Dentists. Rudolph was also in attendance for these screenings of his engaging romantic drama about a pair of married dentists. Other highlights included Thom Fitzgerald's The Wild Dogs, a film with haunting imagery that was filmed in present-day Bucharest. The Wild Dogs was also a contender for the Taos Land Grant. From Bucharest I next went to Venezuela, for a fascinating documentary called Raymundo. Its subject is Raymund Gleyzer, a revolutionary documentary filmmaker whose work was little seen outside his country's borders. Made by family members, the film is overly long in its present state, although judicious editing of this amazing footage should ensure it wider dissemination. From Venezuela, it was off to the Middle East with Marooned in Iraq by Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses), an odd, funny, tragic, and absurd story about borders between people and countries and how the past intrudes on the future. The journey between Austin to Taos ultimately covered a lot more than miles.