Sundance offshoot planted in New Mexico

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By Roger Snodgrass

SANTA FE – Lead actor and producer/director Robert Redford is determined to help Native American and Hispanic filmmakers and New Mexico is more than happy to join in.

Gov. Richardson and Redford announced an alliance Thursday that will, for now, be called Sundance in New Mexico. Redford founded the Sundance Institute in Utah in 1981, where it has become a world-famous center for developing and showcasing independent film production.

Sundance in New Mexico will be based at Los Luceros, a restored hacienda and cultural facility on the Rio Grande north of Española. The property was purchased by the state last year but has been underused.

“This marks a new level of commitment on the part of Bob Redford and my administration in supporting the underrepresented voices in our culture, to job creation and the arts and to the power of partnerships built on mutual goals and aspirations,” Richardson said.

Redford said his relationship with New Mexico began during trips through the state on his way to Austin, Texas, as a boy.

“My own personal history and love for the state goes many, many years back,” Redford said. “‘Milagro Beanfield Wars’ was the first chance to put something behind my love for the state.”

Redford directed “Milagro Beanfield Wars,” based on John Nichols novel, in 1988. It won an Academy Award for Dave Grusin’s music and put village life in northern New Mexico on the big screen.

Redford said he had made other attempts to promote cultural film projects in New Mexico, including three films that were based on Tony Hillerman mystery novels, before the funding from PBS ran on.

Eric Witt, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, recalled that when the governor found out that the Hillerman novels were being filmed out of state, he asked Witt to intervene.

A byproduct of that effort was the passage of the film incentive program. Coincidentally, Los Luceros was thought of at the time as a possible base for the Hillerman series.

“That’s the organic notion of things,” Witt said.

From Sundance, Redford plans to move the Native Filmmakers Lab component to New Mexico. The lab has been active in supporting emerging Native American filmmakers and, among other things, brings promising filmmakers to the Sundance Film Festival to discuss their projects with established professionals and to qualify for ongoing support.

New Mexico will participate with educational programs through the Office of Cultural Affairs, which owns Los Luceros.

Lisa Strout, director of the state film office said the alliance would help expand current training and job-creation programs.

Richardson said about $80,000 to $90,000 of existing state funds would support the project to start.

“Let me be honest,” he said. “This is going to be huge for New Mexico.”

Redford said this kind of program has been a long time coming. He thought the reason it had taken so long had to do with the political climate in which art was tagged as being “elitist or leftist or worthless.”

He said the success of artistic enterprises like the Sundance International Film Festival that brings in $50-60 million in 10 days has dispelled those myths.

A series of Sundance events kicks off this weekend, with a free event at the Scottish Rite Temple in Santa Fe Saturday, 5:30-7 p.m.

Independent film director John Sayles will join Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo and a Maori film artist from New Zealand, Merata Mita, in a discussion about story telling and screen writing.

Taos resident Kathleen Broyles, feature film program coordinator at Sundance Institute was introduced as Redford’s liaison in New Mexico said Redford was building a house in New Mexico – “15 minutes from downtown Santa Fe” – and that he intended to spend about 60 percent of his time in the area.