Mountains of Movies: The Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Returns

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Just in time to help film fans celebrate Memorial Day, the third annual Mammoth Lakes Film Festival runs May 24-28th. The fest screens narrative and documentary features and shorts.  MLFF was named one of the “Top 50 Festivals Worth Your Entry Fee” by Movie Maker Magazine in 2016. Having attended last year, we look forward to another full schedule of eclectic entries which we’ll be covering daily during the festival run.

Festival founder Shira Dubrovner notes that the third year brings expanded programming to the festival, doubling the number of filmmakers attending the festival and bringing more spotlight events and featured artists to the festival.

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“This year our opening night screening is Up In Smoke with Tommy Chong in person; later in the festival we will honor John Sayles with the Sierra Spirit Award, presented to him by Vincent Spano; and for our Saturday Morning Indie Cartoons event, the Bum Family will fly in from Calgary, Canada to give a presentation to kids on how to make paper cut-out animation,” Dubrovner notes.
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Above, festival founder Dubrovner, center, at the closing awards ceremonies in 2016.
While the festival continues to expand, the intimate nature of the festival will not change, Dubrovner attests. “We will always keep our commitment to filmmakers by making Mammoth Lakes a filmmakers-first festival. That has been our vision and commitment since day one. We continue to help each filmmaker with the expense of attending the festival by offering travel stipends and housing. We create a fun, intimate and accessible experience for everyone that attends—filmmakers, audiences, industry professionals, press and our local volunteers.”
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The festival is very different from others throughout California, and different too than well-known behemoths like Sundance and Telluride. We found attending the event last year to be a special experience, one in which we could spend time with filmmakers, and uncover international as well as local films that were extremely fresh in terms of subject and style. From smart comedies to awe inspiring documentaries, the festival doesn’t hold back when it comes to presenting intimate stories.
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“We take our time to create a program with a specific vision; we champion personal, innovative storytelling. We showcase filmmakers who are unafraid to dig deep into themselves and bring their work to life with sensitivity, playfulness and a depth of vision,” Dubrovner attests.
Of course the beauty of the fest’s Sierra setting is also first class.
“We give a platform to these artists in a nurturing and awe-inspiring setting in the Eastern Sierra. Our primary commitment is to the talented, maverick artists that we bring together every year in May.”
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And to creating a stellar line-up of films that will have audience’s talking for the rest of 2017.
– Genie Davis; Photos: Courtesy of MLFF and Jack Burke
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Ajo Arts Weekend: Splashes of Spring Color in the Sonoran Desert

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Ajo, Ariz. is a unique community in transition. A former copper mining community, through the support of the International Sonoran Desert Alliance nonprofit, the town is remaking itself with a community non-profit gallery, beautiful living/working space lofts, and the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center, a former elementary school that is now a unique and beautiful destination inn.

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Above, a room at the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center

Another part of the transition is a dedication to arts and culture, and the weekend of March 24-26th proved that undeniably with an arts program that included a stunning musical and dramatic performance by New Orleans-based Mondo Bizzaro and ArtSpot, three days of mural-painting in what is known as the town’s Artist’s Alley, and a buffet dinner of regional Tohono O’odham cuisine by Desert Rain Cafe.

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Above: performance, mural art, and Native American cuisine.

The mural painting was a profound aspect of the weekend: the vastness of the project, the beauty of the work, and the way it spread from Artist’s Alley into the facades of buildings facing the street, was as natural and as vivid as the striking desert sunsets.

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Above, Kat Anderson with her son – who contributed his artwork to one of her murals.

According to Kat Anderson who administered and coordinated – as well as participated in – the mural project, “It was amazing to watch this event take on its own energy and transform into something collectively that we would never have attained individually. We started with a budget of zero, a crazy dream, and a handful of artists with the dedication to organize and see it through. Now Ajo has 50 new murals and another impactful commUNITY experience to bond us closer, and empower our shared goals of revitalization.”

Muralists included:
Neoglyphix (a team of 8 led by Dwayne Manuel)
Porter McDonald
Micah Perry
Leanne Miller
L.T. Sparrow
Jah Rome
Caitlyn Allen
Nellie David
Amy Juan
Harriet Wood
Victor Garcia
Hop David
Kat Anderson
Silas Anderson
Delbert Antone
Maria Singleton
Harold Curtis
Ghazal Ghazi
Niki Ortiz
Jimmy Fennewald & Mitch Jacobs
Michael Schwartz
Valeria Hutchings
Izrael Rios Garcia
Mauriel Morejon
Catherine Ecker
Emma Bayne
Adan Alvarez
DaWolf Baker
Jake Boyd
Bike Ajo
Ajo CSA
Women Act Now

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Anderson is an artist who lives in Ajo nine months of the year; the other three, in the height of the summer months, in Alaska. “I stumbled into murals. I’ve always been an artist, but never worked on anything bigger than canvas. Two years ago was the first street art happening in Ajo, and the first mural I ever painted. I got hooked on Ajo and on murals.”

Since that time, Anderson has created 12 murals in Ajo, Mexico, and Alaska, as well as continuing with her own studio paintings, poetry writing, and poetry readings. She describes her style as “a little surreal, a little abstract, vivid colors, some landscape and some my own imagination.”  She adds that “I really tend towards thinking about things in colors and a collage of concepts. My painting and my writing both just pop into my head in pieces and then I put them together to create a greater motif.”

For Ajo’s mural festival, she created five murals, including a collaboration with artist Leanne Miller, as well as curating the event. “The first one, I took ten days to finish two years ago. I knew I couldn’t undertake that and run this, so instead I did smaller pieces. I had to have a paintbrush in my hand,” she laughs.

“This is the first year for me being in charge of the murals. The International Sonoran Desert Alliance didn’t have a grant for us, but I was able to see the vision of doing something out of nothing. The grass roots community really came together to show we could make something beautiful out of nothing,” she attests.

Anderson feels that with this year’s festival, the town has “broken through the threshold” in terms of the location of its murals, and that the town will be looking forward to welcoming murals throughout the community.

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Artist Harriet Wood, based in Barcelona and previously from London, created one of the larger, most vivid pieces this year with her “Sonora.” The image covers an entire side of a two-story building.

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“This piece is based on the wild life I stumbled across visiting Arizona. I never saw anything like it before. There’s a nod to native history in the headdress of my female figure, which I made as colorful as possible. I paint female characters for female empowerment,” she notes.

In terms of technique, Wood uses primarily spray paint with some brush work, but says she would’ve used all spray paint if she’d had enough available to complete the impressive work.

“I started spray painting eleven years ago at age fifteen. My dad was an artist, so I’m lucky, it was an accepted goal. My oldest friend lives in Tucson, and when I visited him in September I was introduced to Michael Schwartz and the Tucson Arts Brigade, who got me a wall,” she explains. “I’m staying here just a week, but I don’t want to leave this magical place,” she says.3R1A2544

Wood could not afford the cost necessary for paint, and crowd-sourced the project, which was extremely successful.

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Wood’s participation in the arts weekend was long planned, but Mauriel Morejon merely drove by, saw the project, and wanted to join in. The professional muralist titled his swiftly and beautifully created project “Arizona Hurricane.”

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Morejon creates dynamic, sweeping landscapes and stories.

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Above, Izrael Rios Garcia created a stunning spray and air brushed acrylic work whose rich black background fills a large building corner and loading dock area.

Below, the muralists’ worked all day and into the night.  The festive, creative scene was open to the public.

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One of the strongest supporters of the mural project is Michael Schwartz, who brought Wood into the creation of murals in both Tucson and Ajo. He describes himself as being “all about community building.” A muralist and studio artist, he has gotten high school students involved in the artistic process, and is working on a multi-year collaboration between Tucson and Ajo involving young people.

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Above, Schwartz with a young artist, Val Hutchings.

He’s created 125 murals over time. “Here I feel like it’s taking on a life of its own, the mural project. It’s great to start a wind-up toy and let it keep going. I talked to ISDA early on as to what culture is, we talked it through, and Kat ended up handling 90% of it all, we just did fundraisers online. Really, this is a hundred grand project, but we just came together. Normally, you wouldn’t do something like this without a grant, but we needed to be re-energized to do something for the community.”  Schwartz believes that going “back to our roots” feels good particularly in our current political climate.

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Along with the incredible, large-scale art work, the New Orleans-based Mondo Bizzaro and ArtSpot performance, funded by the National Performance Network, offered an immersive outdoor/indoor show that was as profound as it was beautiful.

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Community artist and former ISDA community arts coordinator Morgana Wallace Cooper saw the performers in North Carolina and knew they would be a passionate fit for the festival.

Performing troupe member Monique Verdin noted that while their primarily outdoor performance is not usually done at night, creating their work at dusk “added a new quality. Everyone really let loose with the Fais de Doux.”

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The eco-performance combined historically-based drama with hauntingly magical music. The subject matter dealt with the Army Corps of Engineers reconfiguring the Mississippi, industrial pollution, and environmental racism, a subject that might have been set in Louisiana culture, but which still resonated for Ajo with its mining past.

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The group led its audience from Ajo’s town square indoors to the beautiful auditorium  at the renovated Curley School adjacent to the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center. Haunting melodies were paired with floor to ceiling photographs of the Louisiana region, while the backdrop to the auditorium’s stage was the rolled-open loading dock, creating an amazing intermingling of Arizona sunset sky and Cajun melodies.

It would be hard to put into words both how powerful and how dream-like the performance was, and how well it fit the almost dream-like quality of Ajo itself: here is a town that is in the process of reinvention, painting itself into revitalized life with enormous murals, serving up a spring arts festival as beautifully realized as any in a much larger community.

Don’t wait to visit Ajo and view the murals and absorb the town’s special magic, from it’s sprightly farmer’s market to it’s art gallery openings; and do look forward to the town’s next Spring Arts Festival.

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Above and below: farmer’s market; opening at Under the Arches Gallery.

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Above, artists’ renderings of mural works; below a delightful crafts project.

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Below, another look at some of the beautiful murals created during the Spring Arts Weekend.

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  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

 

 

 

 

Another Look at a Spectacular Sunrise

Sunrise Springs, just twenty minutes from the heart of Santa Fe, N.M. is a terrific spot to rest, relax, and unwind. We’ve covered the resort before but take another look at this spectacular spot – Spring break doesn’t have to be all about beer and bikinis although there’s nothing wrong with that, either!

Take a walk on the quiet side at this very Zen resort.

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Pet a Silkie chicken

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Or pet a service pup in training.

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Enjoy exquisite dining in a pristine setting…

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Relax in a beautiful courtyard right outside your room. Warning, once you step through the gate into your casita you may not want to leave.

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In the evening relax by the fire…

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Then do it all again, One caveat – you’ll never want to leave.

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– Genie Davie; photos by Jack Burke

 

Here Comes the Sunrise – Sunrise Springs

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs Medicine wheel fire night

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs grounds

You get off I-25 and you drive down a country road. You reach tall wooden gates, announce yourself through an intercom, the gates peal back, and there you are – in a private, 70-acre oasis of spring fed pond and water pavilion, home to a spa, yoga, meditation, and experiential programs as unusual as they are glorious.

It’s all just 20 minutes from the art and shopping of downtown Santa Fe, but it is its own oasis, a spa for 25 years before the owners of Ojo Caliente Spa an hour away purchased and repurposed it a year ago.

Renew your body, sure thing – but you’ll also be renewing your soul.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs Medicine wheel fire night

There’s a blissful, peaceful, wild aspect to the property itself, which strives, according to marketing director Wendi Gelfound, to bring the outdoors in. Rooms and casitas are simply gorgeous, austere yet welcoming, a neutral palette the perfect backdrop to a private patio with rock garden, burbling fountains, spring fed ponds, and wild flowers. What a pleasure to stroll the grounds, cross a serene wooden bridge, sit in an Adirondak chair overlooking water, watch butterflies, catch the scent of pinion smoke from the fire burning in the center of the Native American Medicine Wheel that forms the heart and soul of the place.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs outdoor soaking tub

Or, take a soak in the new Ojitos Pavilion with private outdoor pools, take part in yoga, meditation, art classes, and therapeutic massages.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs casita bedroom

The 20 casitas and 32 guest rooms are pristine and peaceful, with a serene almost Scandinavian style that fuses with the Southwestern surrounding with a surprising intimacy.  Our casita included a gas fireplace, a writing nook – would love to have a writing residency here, and wet bar; a beautiful private courtyard made a great spot for stargazing.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs tea

Thoughtful touches such as a book of meditation exercises and organic teas were left for us. You could easily stay in this self-contained space and be content to never leave. But that would be a loss with so many wonderful experiences to enjoy.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs spa

We began our stay with the Earth Keepers’ Hot Stone Massage, a blissful and very therapeutic 80 minute experience. Stones are warm, oiled, and meticulously applied to soothe muscles and relieve tension, placed on chakra points. Not your thing? Other massage options abound as do alternatives such as Reiki, skin care facials, nutrition and sleep consultation, and Ayurvedic therapies.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs Blue Heron dining room

At the resort’s Blue Heron restaurant, the meals are well worth attending. None of the anemic spa fare that frequently plagues “renewing” destinations. Rather, here you’ll find elegant lunches and dinner served in a restored, historic building beside a natural spring-fed pond. The food is every bit as good as that served in top drawer LA restaurants, and there is a surprisingly varied menu that invites lingering.

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Santa Fe Sunrise Springs Divers Scallops starter Santa Fe Sunrise Springs Chocolate decadence Santa Fe Sunrise Springs fruit

Dinner includes choices of starters, entrees, and desserts, featuring courses such as Pan-Seared Diver Scallops, a red kale Caesar salad, a Poblano relleno made with quinoa, sauteed autumn vegetables, and mild red chile sauce, and grilled salmon with vegetable gallet and lemon butter. For lunch there were choices such as the incredibly fresh Ojo Farm Mixed Green Salad with dried apricots, candied walnuts and blue cheese vinaigrette, the Roasted Vegetable Tamale, or the Vegetable Fajitas. Desserts such as the rich Flour-less Chocolate Decadence with crème anglaise are worth every calorie. The menu changes seasonally.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs puppies

After dining, join the exuberant puppies in the All About Assistance Dogs program. These sweet pups are assistance dogs in training, selected for temperment to be of service. The nationally renowned Assistance Dogs of the West runs the program, working with dogs trained to care for individuals with a particular disability such as Diabetes or PTSD. Supervised playful visits help train the dogs, and are rewarding fun.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs chickens

My favorite animal interaction was with the resort’s Silkie chickens. Inside a large chicken coup, guests hold these soft chickens which actually purr when contented, feed them, learn their habits, and collect eggs. A calming reminder of the serenity in other living beings, and a great way to rest one’s own over-active “monkey brain.”

Another way to calm and renew is with a dance-oriented yoga class, or a restful meditation; both were morning classes and were followed by breakfast served in the sunny Sages building.

Santa Fe Sunrise Springs breakfast buffet

The program that serves as the heart of everything the resort offers, however, is “Finding Your Place on the Medicine Wheel”  both a discussion group and a spiritual therapy. The wheel is divided into east, west, north, and south quadrants which represent different times, spiritual interests, and stages in each guest’s life. The rings of the wheel correspond to the activities guests would like to invite into their lives, the traits, and the understanding guests wish to invite in. Repeatable daily, the beautifully curated experience lasts about 90 minutes.

Resort marketing manager Wendi Gelfound says the property was a former retreat center for 25 years. The owners of Ojo Caliente Minteral Resort took over Sunrise Springs in 2013, and spent years carefully crafting it into a space which is “visually appealing, with a conscious effort to bring the outdoors indoors, and create a beautiful, holistic space.” According to Gelfound, the beds and lamps in the rooms are designed and created by a Taos-based artist, shampoos, soaps and oils in the rooms and spa use locally harvested herbs and plants. A new spa apothecary line just launched, featuring massage oils and other products for guests to take home.

“The idea here is to hit the pause button. A Japanese study recently noted that five minutes in nature can calm you down,” Gelfound relates. “We are passionate about expanding on that, and on showing people things here that they can incorporate into their lives at home.” She adds that the resort has moved successfully from a “clinical health approach to one of inclusive spiritual health. Our experience leaders are licensed counselors, and have helped us design our program and our physical area.”

Along with overnight, weekend, and longer stays, the resort offers a day program that includes spa services as well. But why would you want to limit yourself?

Here, the wide open New Mexico sky is the perfect accompaniment to the wide range of classes, experiences, and pure pleasure this resort and spa offers. We defy you to not return – we certainly plan to do so!