Back in 2012, everything going on revolved around the Arizona Centennial; how to celebrate it and how to properly commemorate it. Grant money flowed freely, and funding for several commemorative projects became available. One of those projects was the AZ 100 Indie Film, in which 100 locally made films would be gathered from across the state that would represent the diversity of filmmaking in Arizona. The project breaks down to a collection of 33 features and 67 shorts by 93 filmmakers. Some of the films were screened at a few venues in conjunction with the Centennial celebration and all of the films were compiled into a commemorative book that is still available for purchase online. According to the book’s introduction, the project was sponsored by the University of Arizona Confluence Center for Creative Inquiry, and was “created to provide an archive that would reflect the myriad topics and disciplines the Confluence Center supports and engages with throughout our interdisciplinary endeavors including: Southwestern culture, Native American issues, borders and beyond boundaries, digital inquiry, music and other performing arts. The AZ 100 indie film is a juried collection of 100 films by Arizona filmmakers assembled in honor of the state’s founding in 1912. Supported by the University of Arizona’s Confluence Center for Creative Inquiry and the Arizona Media Arts Center, AZ 100 indie film marks the first stage in an ongoing project designed to showcase the creative and independent spirit of Arizona’s diverse peoples as well as to preserve that spirit for future generations in the form of an open and accessible media archive. The 100 films in the collection will be exhibited around the state as part of the 2012 Centennial observation, then they will return to the University of Arizona where they will become the inaugural collection of the Arizona Independent Moving Image Archive (AIAMA).”
Utilizing the published guide and searching the internet film by film, it was discovered that very few of these influential films were readily available for viewing. Some are available for rent or digital download at moderate to minimal cost, while others are only available for purchase as a DVD at some rather exorbitant prices (15 bucks for a 4 minute film? That comes to 3.75 a minute. Outrageous!). Here are 5 films included in the 2012, AZ 100 Project that are available for viewing online, in their entirety, free of charge.
389 Miles: Living the Border – Luis Carlos Davis (2010)
The very first film on the very first page of the AZ 100 book, ‘389’ records the tragic odyssey director Davis embarks on as he criss-crosses an obscure region of the Arizona-Mexico border. As Davis works diligently to portray the endless suffering that is inherent with the US-Mexico border issues, his film almost inadvertently becomes a tragic and haunting ghost story wherever he ventures; through deserted villages along the border, into a room filled with new, tiny caskets for the children that will die attempting to cross into the US (all of the caskets provided by the Mexican government). His search for some vestige of humanity brings him to contaminated water and cardboard shacks, closed factories and dark desert brush littered with clothing, burned out mattresses, violence, torture and rape. Everyone Davis encounters is ‘actively’ doing their part to improve conditions at the border with several unique interviews including former Minuteman Militia leader Chris Simcox, a ‘Coyote’ who is a US citizen and smuggles immigrants for big money, and to the humanitarian relief organization “No Mas Muertes.” As the immigration issue seems to fade or diminish over the years, replaced with sensational and alarming headlines, 389 Miles: Living the Border provides an excellent and timely refresher course to the tragedy and suffering that continues to exist right here in Arizona. Runtime: 56 minutes. Available on YouTube.
Escape To White Mountain – Rob Sabal (1992)
16-year-old Kyle (Caleb Smith) is bossed around by his overbearing dad, who owns the local junk yard. Kyle hops on a motorcycle he built out of spare parts and speeds away in search of his mother whom he only remembers in grainy flashbacks. While traveling across Arizona, his motorcycle breaks down on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, and Kyle is sure his travels have ended. He is befriended by an Apache named Grant (Midnite Ethelbah) and quickly discovers that his adventures are really just beginning. This film is almost 2 movies in one, with more than half of the movie presented in Apache with English subtitles. Escape is an easygoing, early 90’s VHS feature that tackles huge issues with a light enervation. The production quality is quite good, with a very distinct late 80’s ‘Monday Night Movie’ look that was popular at the time. The early animations and CGI are well used in several dream-quest/flashback/freak-out scenes and reveal the teaming potential of a future experimental filmmaker. Runtime: 80 minutes. Available on Vimeo.
Dude Vision – Jon Proudstar (2005)
Man does not constantly hunger for sex and conquest, he takes a break once in awhile to play video games and eat cold pizza. Groovy suburbanite Jon (played by director Jon Proudstar) addresses the audience directly as he breaks down the day in the life of a dude: a constant game of compromise, contumacious conflict and cuddling with his girlfriend. ‘Vision’ is a fun and fantastic, always humorous romp as Jon’s wandering eyes constantly toss him in the soup, and force him to concentrate all of his computer-like dude skills on the proper interpretation of his girlfriends angst and anger with his ever unflinching dudeness. Shot in Tucson, this entertaining tale set the bar for which others have found either constantly out of reach, or just beyond their grasp; incorporating excellent photography and sound, turning mundane locations into colorful holodecks for some star wars style sci-fi fighting and a few erotic fantasies as well. Serious props to Juoy Luzania as Vero and her seamless ability to switch from english to dolphin in mid-dialog. Runtime: 27 minutes. Available on Vimeo (enter the password: crimsonskies).
On A Clear Day – Alan Williams (2007)
Old and weary cowboy Frank (Jeff Scotland) and his young Mexican wife Rosa (Angela Rodenbach) struggle to maintain their ranch that sits on the Arizona/Mexico border. Lately, their American dream is being increasingly overrun with undocumented immigrants, drug smugglers and trigger happy militia members. The stress takes its toll on Frank, as he and Rosa drift apart while Frank’s own reality slowly slips away. Frank rescues a boy he found in the desert and Rosa wants to keep him for herself. Unknown to the couple, the boy is about to bring violent retribution to their little slice of heaven. This rather weird and jaggedly melodramatic film utilizes the hot issues and headlines of the day merely as a catalyst for strangeness, never really addressing the issues or offering an outcome. Original and well intentioned photography helps just a little in defining the quirky characters that are presented as merely existing in the tormented realm of this human, social and political turmoil. An early film from Tucson filmmaker Alan Williams that presents the ‘despicable heroes’ he would continually hearken back to in his future films. Runtime: 20 minutes. Available on Vimeo.
Stardust and the Bandit – Dick Fisher (2011)
Former mob accountant Guy Bacon (Scott Martin Thomas) arrives at the Old Tucson Movie Studios to lay low as the new bookkeeper for a wild west show. His overzealously Zen handler at the witness protection program ignores important intel that Bacon’s former mob boss is in Tucson and (gasp!) at this moment attending the same wild west show! Guy gets shanghaied into performing in the show by the lovely saloon girl Victoria (Shanna Brock) and before the day is done he’ll be lassoed, rescued and subdued several times by the lusty cowgirl and the cast of other quirky characters of the wild west show. Intended to be the pilot episode of a TV series, ‘Stardust’ is a very well shot, entertainingly refined and fancy fare with a very professional, polished look. The humor is as dry as the the Arizona desert, relying heavily on self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek tourist trap witticism. Runtime: 33:38. Available on IMDB.