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Taos Talking Picture Festival


  Scene from La Ciudad
La Ciudad won the Taos Talking Picture Festival.

by Wolf Schneider

La Ciudad, a black-and-white docudrama comprised of four fictional vignettes centering on Latino immigrants struggling to establish themselves in New York City, won the Land Grant Award at the Taos Talking Picture Festival after a heated jury debate. The movie, which took filmmaker David Riker six years to make, is tentatively slated for autumn release by New York-based Zeitgeist. Shot in a neo-realistic style reminiscent of the Great Depression era photography, it raised comparisons to that seminal Latino American film Salt of the Earth.

This festival, which gives away one of the best prizes on the film fest circuit--five acres of land atop Taos Mesa--is a curious mixture of cinema and commerce. A low-key event that draws mainly indie art films and regional press, it's become one of the most surprising launch successes of the Nineties. Attendance at this year's April 15-18, 1999 gathering was estimated at 10,000, up nearly 15 percent from 1998, with 120 films and videos screened, including 18 premieres.

As a senior editor at Movieline magazine, I was on the five-person jury for the Land Grant Award, along with Smoke Signals director Chris Eyre (who won the Land Grant last year, and just signed to direct Winona Ryder in the circus-life drama Roustabout for New Line), former Monkee and current film/TV producer Michael Nesmith, filmmaker Jeff Jackson of the Taos Land and Film Co., and filmmaker/programmer Ellen Osborne.

Other films with good audience buzz included the Silence of the Lambs-like thriller Oxygen, with a noteworthy performance by Adrien Brody as a psycho; the upbeat musical Swing; the sweeping through-the-ages art film The Red Violin; and On The Ropes, a Hoop Dreams-wannabe documentary for the boxing crowd. Gil Cope's pain angel won an award for best cinematography for a short film.

Acquisitions folks from Lion's Gate, Cinevision, and Atom Films showed up, so did Taos-based novelist John Nichols (The Milagro Beanfield War), and actress Maura Tierney (Primary Colors).

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