Robert Redford New Mexico

Sundance Finds Second Home in New Mexico

Sundance has found a new home, or at least a second home, in New Mexico. Call the picture Bill Richardson and the Sundance Kid.

With the states purchase of the 148-acre Cabot ranch, Los Luceros,  in Rio Arriba County near the village of Alcalde, New Mexico anticipates creating a new outpost for the Sundance Institutes Native American and Indigenous Programs. The program will produce Native American films and train Native American talent.

The project is an initiative from Gov. Bill Richardson, who said the purchase price for the ranch was $2.6 million – low even in todays depressed real estate market. It has been described by Sundance as a personal deal between the governor and Robert Redford, the Sundance Institutes founder.  Redford is said to be building a new home in the Santa Fe area.

In a July 24 report in Variety, Redford responded to questions by email, saying that “I want to make a difference on a personal level, and feel Im uniquely qualified for this one on a professional level. I like that its something new that hasnt been done before in this particular way: state involvement from the start, at this particular time, with such major socioeconomic challenges in New Mexico and across the country.”

The Cabot family was offered more than $2.6 million for the land by private developers, said the governors deputy chief of staff, Eric Witt, but chose to sell Los Luceros to the state with the promise that the ranch would be preserved as a heritage site.

The project seems to have united two men eager to establish their personal legacies. “Its not an institute-driven initiative, although we will certainly play a role in helping program it as much as Mr. Redford wants us to,” said Brooks Addicott, spokesperson for the Sundance Institute, in June.

“Right now its called Sundance in New Mexico, but I dont know if that name is going to stick,” she said of the new Redford-Richardson initiative, stressing that the Native Program is still based in Utah and has not officially moved.

Redfords ties to New Mexico date back decades. His 1988 film The Milagro Beanfield War, about local opposition to resort development, was shot in the state, with a cast filled with prominent Hispanic-American and Latin American talent.

Diversity also weighed on the decision to select Los Luceros, Redford told Variety. “I love the dance of cultures in New Mexico. Los Luceros has a rich history and spirit that will certainly inspire something as creative people gather.”

In an interview in his office in late May, Richardson suggested that the Native lab, with an eventual added focus on Latin American and US Latino filmmakers, might be a better fit for New Mexico than the Institutes current mountain outpost at the Sundance Resort, an hour north of Park City.

In fact, the migration southward has already begun. This years Sundance Native Lab was held in May in New Mexico, in Santa Fe, and on the Mescalero Apache tribal homeland of N. Bird Runningwater, who heads the Native Program.

In the late 1970s Redford created Sundance as a refuge from Hollywoods commercial pressures. The now-diverse field of independent film flowed in large part from Sundances nurturing of work outside the studio system. Is Redfords latest move an effort to escape from Utahs own pressures?

Since last years passage of Proposition 8 in California, rumors warning that the film industry would boycott Sundance 2009 in Park City failed to come true. There was also talk that Sundance might seek to sever its ties to the Mormon-dominated state from which millions of dollars flowed to mandate that marriage in California must be between two members of the opposite sex.

Downplaying any chance that Sundance could abandon Utah for more liberal surroundings (the Sundance Film Festival has a contract to remain in infrastructure-impaired Park City through 2018), Brooks Addicott noted in June that a new study measured the festivals annual economic impact at $92.1 million, which she said could bring the annual event additional support from the state of Utah. Skeptics wondered whether the economic impact figure reflected Park Citys extortionate towing fees.

Yet infrastructure is just what New Mexico seems to be holding under Sundances nose. In an axis taking shape from south to north, New Mexico offers new soundstages with a trained labor force and a range of urban and desert locations in Albuquerque. North of Albuquerque is the former state prison, a massive modernized hulk where science fiction, horror and prison films have been shot. The Santa Fe area served as a prehistoric location and Ancient Rome for The Year One. (As a desirable place for talent to stay, it has helped New Mexico become the third largest concentration of film production in the US.) Now Marvel Comics Thor, to be directed by Kenneth Branagh, is rumored to be the next in-state production. At Los Luceros, the same ranch that will house the Native Lab and other future Sundance activities is ripe for shooting films, television and commercials, which could mean jobs and training for larger communities nearby, such as Espanola.

And any filming north of Santa Fe could mean additional post-production work for Albuquerque studios, said Eric Witt.

Leadership could be another advantage for New Mexico. The Richardson-Redford deal was made as Sundance Festivals longtime director Geoff Gilmore left for Tribeca in New York and the Sundance Institutes director, Ken Brecker, stepped down. Gilmore was succeeded as festival director by John Cooper, and a search for Breckers successor is underway. No word on whether Richardsons in the running, but given his record as a film mogul so far, it might be a step down.

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  1. Not much mentioned about Spaniards. After all, the Luceros family is the namesake. I didn’t find Redford’s film, “The Milagro Beanfield War,” captured the Spaniard tradition from Northern New Mexico. It seemed pervasively influenced by Latin American aspects, which is not historically accurate. The property sits on a Martin-Serranos (a name from which Martinez is derived) land grant (my family). Perhaps, because Redford was in love with beautiful Brazilian actress Sonia Braga, at the time of the filming, as I understand. Additionally, this treatise focuses and brings up Native Americans, which is good, but Spain and the Spaniards and their decendants seems avoided. Why? As anyone who understands, Northern New Mexico Spaniards and their decendants are too polite to complain. However, someone needs to pipe up.