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By Shandra Keesecker-Rivero
An arid, rocky landscape just an hour south of the US/Mexico border; dark remnants of lava flows crisscross the desert while traveling sand dunes creep across the horizon, stretching out to meet up with the sea. Enter a vibrant young filmmaker donning a black cap, eyes full of curiosity as he makes his way to the shores of Puerto Peñasco for the first time. After arriving to the port nearly at sunset – and heading straight to the movie theater with his 35mm treasure – a full schedule awaits as the city buzzes with excitement in anticipation of what is to come….
The TruNode device in Alex Rivera’s science fiction borderscape film, Sleep Dealer (2008), tells a young prospective writer to “…focus on the small details…” in conveying stories through images and memories. Yet, details of Rivera’s whirlwind trip to town (Feb. 14th – 16th) for screenings of his first feature-film whip by in a frenzy – a palette of beige, purple, and green surrounding the Schuk Toak Visitors Center of the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, and shades of blue reflecting off the Sea of Cortez under a pristine Sonoran sky.
Alex Rivera’s visit to Puerto Peñasco last weekend came on the heels of having just screened Sleep Dealer, along with co-writer David Riker, in Phoenix as part of the Spring Film series of ASU’s Comparative Border Studies.
Alex and I had already crossed paths on different occasions over the years, first at Hampshire College (MA) where we both attended, and then by chance at a random taco stand in Cuernavaca, Morelos years later, and again at a 2010 screening of Sleep Dealer in Phoenix. When social networks suddenly brought familiar faces back to life, the connection continued and I began to more intently follow Alex’s work in documentaries, short films, and in promoting Latino films through his group SubCine.
Puerto Peñasco’s First Film Workshop and Film Rally took place in 2011, shortly after which I presented workshop organizers, Nina Mier and Socorro González Barajas of the local Cine Club Primera Toma, with the idea of bringing Alex to our shores. Nina’s eyes wistfully lit up when thinking about the opportunity of having a director present his own award winning film in our little seaside spot (having won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance in 2008).
After receiving a resounding ‘YES I’m interested’ from Alex, Nina and I set about creating a program to include a screening with University and high-school students, as well as the opportunity for a presentation at CitiCinemas. Everything began to fall in place; Héctor Hans Munro Colosio of the Schuk Toak Visitors Center at the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve got on board, as well as City Director of Civic and Cultural Affairs, Jesus Romero Chagoyán, who took the idea to the Mayor for additional support. Soon others were drawn in and excitement grew among the local arts, culture, and educational scenes.
We sent invitations to area schools, asking them to bring groups of students to the Schuk Toak Visitors Center on the morning of Feb. 15th, crossed our fingers and hoped for at least 50 or so students to help fill the 75 seat Pinacate theater. I approached friends, family, and local businesses to help sponsor the educational film event, and we printed tickets with the desire to fill at least one of the 120 seat theaters at CitiCinemas. As the date neared, tickets began to fly out the door and we soon realized we needed to have two theaters for the evening presentation. CitiCinemas manager Daniel Medina welcomed the idea, and noted with two theaters we could show the film in 35mm format, which, as Alex noted: “The 35mm canisters are large and heavy, I don’t love traveling with them – but the film looks best that way!”
The day arrived. Alex began the morning as I do most days in Puerto Peñasco, with a trip to Mario’s organic coffee at the entrance to the Old Port. With caffeine flowing through our veins, we made our way over to José Antonio Perez’s morning news program on 1390 AM XEQC. Alex’s keen sense of humor, which also comes through clearly in parts of Sleep Dealer, led him to wonder aloud if he would meet the radio’s well-known reyna….La Reyna del Mar (the station’s catch phrase). For the morning screening, we headed out of town and wound our way around the eye-catching science fiction scenery that envelops the Schuk Toak Visitors Center [after a walk through the dunes and lavascapes, Alex himself proclaimed to rename the area as Centro Cultural Luke Skywalker]. I held my breath as we drew closer to the center, hoping teachers had rallied their students for the trek out into the desert to see Alex’s film. Rounding the final curve before the parking lot, we saw a bus from COBACH along with a host of cars…which was then followed by a van from CETMAR, and one from UNIDEP, as well as a handful of university students from UTPP. Héctor led everyone into the theater, and soon Visitor Center staff were rolling out office chairs to line the back wall of the packed room while other students picked out a spot on the theater’s steps. In all, more than 130 students and teachers had come out for the chance to see the film and hear the director talk about what inspired him to do film in the first place, his journey as a filmmaker, and the relevance of topics surrounding migration, technology, labor, and connections (human and via nodes) addressed in his mostly Spanish sci-fi feature piece. We had brought pictures of the film’s poster to hand out in case anyone wanted Alex’s autograph following the question and answer period. Amazingly, the stage was soon flooded and our stack of photos ran out…so Alex began signing Pinacate posters instead.
As afternoon turned toward evening, the terrace at CitiCinemas set the stage for the next gathering – a “meet and greet” with Alex before the film – alongside a small fireplace with directors’ chairs provided by Eddie Wharez of Diseños Casa y Jardín. In lieu of keys to the city, Eddie presented Alex with an “old-fashioned movie camera” as a recuerdo of Puerto Peñasco. Just before 7 p.m., approximately 200 movie goers made their way into one of the two theaters reserved for Alex’s screening…with a few stragglers trickling in after it began. When the film wrapped up, to applause heard coming from both theaters, anyone interested in a question / answer period with the director was invited into one theater for another 20 minutes or so of back and forth in Spanish, English, and Spanglish at times.
With a full day of screenings, conversation, and interviews behind us we made our way across the street for cerveza and tequila at Latitude 31…before topping the night off with a round of tacos al pastor near la Señora de Guadalupe church.
Prior to his departure, Alex managed to get in one last interview with Rosie Glover on Rocky Point Ramblings (Saturdays 12 p.m – 2 p.m. 106.1 FM) during a stop by the Taste of Peñasco spilling out of la Plaza del Camarón.
Following the success of this first “Day with a Director”, it is worth noting we have already heard from others interested in possibly screening their films in Puerto Peñasco! Gracias, Alex, for being a spark to fan the cultural fires of our area …¡hasta la próxima!
XXI Ayuntamiento de Puerto Peñasco, Dirección de Acción Cívica y Cultura, Cine Club Primera Toma A.C., Rocky Point 360, Oficina de Convenciones y Visitantes (Convention and Visitors Bureau), Pinacate Biosphere Reserve and Schuk Toak Visitors Center, Las Palomas beach & Golf Resort, Rosie Glover of ProAlliance Insurance, Las Conchas Community Relations Committee, Team Schramm, Rodger & Jeanette Clifton and Enrique Rodriguez of FMI Rentals, Architect Eddie Jones and Lisa Johnson, JoinUs Newspaper, Lori Ramirez, Alberto Gallardo, Antonio Bellot, Eddie Wharez, Gustavo Turati of Optica Turati, Liane Armstrong of Mexican Beach Properties, Arq. Pedro Lasso, Baja Cantina, EcoFun, Kent White, Charles Carliss & Laurie Klepinger, Betty Majors of RPR, Mike Clifton, Mary Snyder of Puerta Privada, Cindy and Mike of Latitude 31, Rick Busa, Russ and Naomi Black of Penasco Recreation Co., Karen & Chuck Aldridge of Rocky Point Calendar, Rich and Anda Dillon, Maria Alemany of Mexico Beach Destinations, Héctor Hans Munro Colosio, and Joseph & Selena Keesecker.
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