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THE ROAD TO TAOS (part one)

By Stuart Hynson Culpepper | May 5, 2000

THURSDAY, 10:00 a.m. ^ Karin, my girlfriend and I are driving on the second day of our road trip from San Diego to Taos New Mexico. The hours in the car are a welcome relief from the last ten weeks. Finally finishing the film. The print was shipped practically dripping wet from the lab to the folks at the festival, who were starting to worry if it would show up at all.
4:00 p.m. ^ I let slip the news that I was going to propose to Karin this weekend and the folks at the festival arranged to put us in a place called the Dreamcatcher, a really cool bed-and-breakfast run by a really nice couple, Bob & Jill.
8:00 p.m. ^ Karin and I have dinner at Fred’s Place, a local hangout with cool murals on the ceiling. The food is fabulous. I am now, officially, a nervous wreck. I have never screened my film in front of an audience. I haven’t seen all the reels projected consecutively yet. I have visions of the projector jamming and the print burning up.
3:00 p.m. ^ Karin and I spend the day walking around town with our “promotional materials,” (fifty xeroxed flyers I made at Kinkos and some invitations stamped with the screening times.) We put them up in coffee shops and restaurants, wherever people were cool with it, which, in Taos, seems like most everywhere.
We meet a filmmaker here with a short and he joins us. His name is Hisham Al-Zouki. We find out that he’s a political exile from Syria, his native country, living in Norway. He was arrested at the age of 19 for demonstrating for Human Rights and imprisoned for seven years without knowing if he would ever be let out or if he would be killed inside. He tells his story without overt sentiment and with a surprising lack of bitterness. Now he’s a filmmaker. He says, as he looks at his watch, that this is the watch they handed back to him on the day he was released. It now occurs to him this is the six-year anniversary of his being on the outside. I like him immensely.
6:00 p.m. ^ My mom, my sister, brother-in-law and their four year-old twins have arrived. In twenty-four hours my movie will be shown to an audience. I am too afraid to ask how many tickets they’ve sold.
8:30 p.m ^ Karin and I are walking to the car outside the theater in a trance. Hisham’s film, DOREN (The Door,) was remarkable. An exquisitely shot, edited and mixed story, without dialogue, of a man carrying a door toward the sea. (Looking back, it was the most finely crafted film I saw at Taos.)
10:00 p.m. ^ Fred’s is packed. Our food arrives after we’re finally seated, and my nephew, restless and exhausted, falls out of his chair and smacks his head on the tile floor. My sister and brother-in-law bundle the kids up, we hurriedly pack their food in to-go containers. Kitty (my mom’s name,) Karin and I find ourselves sitting at a table for seven, ravaged and wrecked, two minutes into the meal. Cheers.
10:00 p.m. ^ The three of us, Kitty, Karin and I head to the Opening Night Bash. It’s the first time I see a huge crowd. The energy at the party is a little strange, almost everyone’s a filmmaker and that means almost everyone’s panicked.
I’m approached by a volunteer who asks if I want a drink. When she finds out I’m a filmmaker she begins to expound on her conspiracy-theory-slash-plan-for-human-enlightenment. This is Taos.
I go looking for Kitty and Karin, who wandered away to the bathroom as a ruse to give me a reason to escape.
I find them later. My mother, bless her heart, is walking up to absolutely EVERYONE and handing them invitations.
I go looking for Hisham. I find him standing alone in a corner with a drink in his hand. I tell him how much Karin and I were moved by his film.
I point out my mom. The two of us crack up, she’s so absolutely cute, no one can refuse her. If I write a book about festival promotion, Rule One will be: bring your mom to all parties.
FRIDAY 8:00 a.m. ^ The people at our B&B are really cool. They’re putting our postcards in all the rooms and encouraging all the guests to see the film at breakfast.
9:00 a.m. ^ The media breakfast panel. A small patio setting, the room is comfortably full, but not a zoo. Kelly Clement, the head programmer for the festival, and a few others are giving everyone the run-down on the special programs and events. This is different than other festivals I’ve been to, much more low-key and extremely friendly. Kelly points out that Taos doesn’t accept submissions from distributors, only movies from filmmakers that don’t have distribution yet.
11:00 a.m. ^ Lou Seitchik, who plays one of the leads in the film, and Mitch Levine, a great friend and filmmaking comrade, arrive. They’re excited to be here. I start to get excited.
1:00 p.m. ^ Karin I decide we have to see more movies. It’s a festival for crying out loud. We go to see one of the short programs. It’s really well done. The way the films were lined up, from comedy to tragedy, all around the theme of sexuality, created a very entertaining two hours. The ones that stick with me are THE WEEKEE WATCHEE GIRLS by Kim Cummings, a coming of age story with wonderfully self-possessed performances by three teenage girls, and BOUNDARIES by Greg Durbin, an absurdist meditation on the U.S./Mexico border that makes the most hysterically funny use of a trombone you’ve ever seen.
3:00 p.m. ^ At KTAO, billed as the world’s most powerful solar-powered radio station (how cool is that?) being interviewed by Kelly Clement. Interviews are not something I’m used to, so I have no idea what to say, but Kelly and the DJ are very cool people. We end up just having a conversation about the film and the festival and have a really good time.
On the way out of the studio, I meet the next interview, the director of STANLEY’S GIG. He hasn’t seen his print from beginning to end either and his film goes up around the same time. We both clutch our stomachs and laugh.
4:30 p.m. ^ Have a shot of scotch with the gang before the show. Still no sign of Phil Beaumont, another leading actor and his fiancée, Yuko. He was supposed to make it sometime today. (Later we find out they were almost killed by some a*****e who dropped a boulder onto their car from an overpass.)
Karin’s parents arrive. They take me aside and let me know they approve of my proposing.
5:45 p.m. ^ My film has sold out. They ask me if I want to say something beforehand to introduce it. I contemplate the fear of facing them before or after and decide after is much better. Besides, what do you say beforehand? Do you tell them the plot?
6:00 p.m. ^ I sit in the back. Karin holds my hand. The lights go down.
There is a very funny short film that precedes mine, TOY SOLDIERS. Thank God, I need a laugh.
8:30 p.m. ^ The print didn’t burn up. There was huge applause. Almost no one left for the Q&A. I introduce the members of the film in the audience, they get more applause. The acting gets lots of compliments. My mother, Kitty, who’s the best actor in the film by a long way, is applauded specially. One woman asks if there’s going to be a sequel…I lean into the microphone and intone, “God please, no.” It gets a laugh. We finally get thrown out by the house manager. People come up to me and shake my hand. I am proud. I am exhausted. I am ready for the biggest margarita God ever put on New Mexican soil. Outside the theater there are hugs. One down, two to go.
11:30 p.m. ^ The filmmaker’s party. It’s really cool, not like an industry party where there’s a social hierarchy. I make small talk with Haskell Wexler. I meet an actor named Mark Larson whose film I promise to see. There’s a guy giving away shots of hand crafted mescal. READ PART TWO IN TWO DAYS!
Stuart Hynson Culpepper is the writer, producer, editor and director of the feature film, “The Origin of Man.” For more information on the film or the director, visit [ ] or e-mail: [ ]

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