I hitched a ride with the Rustic boys to New Mexico where their short doc “Blocking the Bread Aisle” was screening at the Taos Shortz Film Festival. All in all, the trip was a reminder of their roots as filmmakers. As Julien put it over dinner in a softly-lit restaurant after a day of film screenings, baths in riverside hot springs, and mountain hikes under the New Mexican sun: “this is why we make films.”
And over the course of a weekend hanging with them in Taos, I discovered what he meant.
When Jamie and Julien are making films, they are in constant conversation with their surroundings. This exchange of ideas and stories is the driving force of their work. Seeing their final product on the big screen in front of the audience is definitely gratifying, but it isn't the end goal; it's only one part of the ongoing dialogue, which weaves from one topic to another without ever losing its momentum.
While Julien cruised us through California and Arizona and into New Mexico, Jamie spent much of the fourteen-hour drive with his MacBook cracked open on his lap doing post-production work for a HVW8 film so they could have a finished cut by that evening. Meanwhile, if a certain permutation of the landscape caught their eye – a fleeting moment when the desert sun began its descent over the mountains in the distance, or a roadside shack steeped in vintage gas station memorabilia – they didn’t hesitate to pull the car over and step out onto the open road to get the shot. This is the conversation in action: enthusiastic and fluid, resolute yet at the same time roving, spoken ultimately through images.
Taos, we discovered, speaks to artists with a certain quiet power. The festival had arranged for us to stay at an inn at the edge of town, and we arrived there at dusk after our long journey on the road. We were greeted by our host, Richard Spera, who showed us to our three-bedroom casita, one of five adobe homes that comprise Casa Gallina. It didn’t take a trained eye to see that this place, from its adobe architecture to its warm interior design and deft lighting, is a work of art. The following morning we had the chance to see the grounds: a vegetable garden, a chicken coop that delivers farm-fresh eggs every morning, sculptures and totem poles from local artists peering at us across the lawn, and the mountains looming over us on the horizon. But before first light, we were in for a night of eating and drinking in town. Richard pointed out a few recommendations on a map. The night air was cool and the sky was clear with stars. The country roads were dark and quiet - a stark contrast to the gridlock of LA - and the nightlife was calm enough to carry a conversation but still loud enough to keep us mingling.
We spent most of the Saturday outside hiking and taking photos. What struck Jamie and Julien, and what they sought to capture through the lens, was the way that the arrangements of the small town weave into the landscape -- an old decaying fence crawling over a field at the foot of the mountains, a massive concrete bridge overlooking a gorge, an adobe house perched on a desert hill. Our destination was a hot spring tucked under a cliff on the bank of the Rio Grande River. The journey was simple enough, but we never would have found it (or known of its existence for that matter) without Richard's clear guidance: follow a certain dirt road until it ends, and then hike down the wall of the gorge until you arrive at the bubbling pool hiding under a boulder.
That evening we caught some films at the festival, had a late dinner at a place called Love Apple where we soaked in the good vibes of smiling couples finishing bottles of wine after their meal, and then checked out the Taos Mesa Brewing Company, which moonlights as both a bar and a venue for artistic performances. It was here, while Jamie and Julien were talking with fellow documentary filmmakers about the trials and tribulations of their medium as a solo act from Denver, Laura Goldhamer and the Silvernail, played her songs with the support of self-made film animations playing on a screen behind her, that I began to comprehend the power of this place: art is the currency of Taos, its gold standard upon which every exchange is defined and experienced.
Sunday morning, we caught Jamie and Julien’s doc in a block of films titled “Morning Artscapes.” I was especially moved by the depiction of an artist named Gendron Jenson who draws bones in the short doc “Poustina.” The level of the precision with which this man spoke matched the mesmerizing detail of his drawings. After the screening, Jamie and Julien and the other filmmakers in attendance took the stage. Jenson, accompanying the director of “Poustina,” was among them. When he had the opportunity to speak, he gave his thanks.
Taos, as he put it, “has the sound of magic to anyone who hears its name.”
Magic. Indeed, I can think of no better word to describe the power of communion through art that we experienced in Taos. After the show, Julien ran into an old friend from high school whom he hadn’t seen in years. She had performed the night before at the Brewery as part of a dance troupe that opened for Laura Goldhamer. We also met a couple of writers who were spending a few months in Taos on a Wurlitzer grant to finish their novels in progress. All of us, old friends and new, went to brunch at the Farmhouse Café and Bakery. Later we went down the road and checked out the Earthship residences, which are made completely out of recyclable material. The otherworldly architecture, in conjunction with their desert-like surroundings, invokes Luke Skywalker’s moisture farm in the original Star Wars. On our way back, we stopped by a neighboring town where we met a fellow Ohioan who makes holed pottery by the unique process of shooting clay with a wide array of guns. That evening, we had everybody over to Casa Gallina, where we continued the discussion on films we’d seen that morning. Ultimately, the conversation came to focus on Taos, the place that brought us together, and the ineffable grip it has on each of its visitors.
The boys plan to pick up on a few riffs they had there, and return soon. It goes without saying that a guy who shoots bullets through his art as a part of his creation process would make a great subject for another short doc.
And so the conversation flows onward, discursively, from one place to another.