Friday, September 25, 2009

Movie News and more

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — From premieres of movies and plays to breaking, national news with surprising local ties, September has been a newsy month.
In fact, there doesn’t seem to be time and space to fit in some of the most interesting tidbits.
Could Las Cruces end up with two Academy Award nominated writer-directors in residence, for instance?
It’s been a busy summer for our original hometown triple-threat movie ace, writer-director-producer Mark Medoff, a Tony Award winner who has twice taken plays from Las Cruces to Broadway. His “Children of a Lesser God” earned a screenwriting Academy Award nomination for Mark, and Marlee Matlin won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Medoff’s tormented deaf heroine.
Medoff directed and shares writing credits with Phil Treon for “Refuge,” starring Linda Hamilton, filmed here this summer, and this week debuts a new version of his “The Same Life Over,” at the Black Box Theatre.
I thought of Mark when I heard Patrick Swayze had died after a brave bout with pancreatic cancer.
The two worked together when Swayze starred in “The City of Joy.” Mark wrote the screenplay for the 1992 film, based on the novel of the same name by Dominique Lapierre.
“We enjoyed working together,” Medoff said. “I haven’t been in touch with Patrick since ‘City of Joy,’ but at that time we had several conversations — which included his wife, Lisa, who was his coach — about the character and the script. My sense of him was of a generous man who cared deeply about the work.”
Guillermo Arriaga, another Academy Award-nominated writer (for “Babel”), was in Las Cruces again this month for a preview of “The Burning Plain,” which was filmed in Las Cruces and Oregon in late 2007 and early 2008, and went into limited national release on Sept. 18 and will be screened Nov. 6 through 12 here at the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla.
Since the Sept. 11 “Burning Plain” benefit screening, its images have haunted my mind and I thought about Guillermo’s comment that “being a parking lot film is the worst thing that can happen to a film — by the time you get to the parking lot, you’ve already forgotten it.”
No danger of that for the “Plain.”
It fact, “The Burning Plain” was a hot topic on The View, Sept. 17, generating comments from all the hosts, including Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and guest host La Toya Jackson.
“I have to tell you, in the opening of the movie, she’s totally nude,” Jackson said, as she welcomed the film’s star Charlize Theron.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful film and for me that was one of the most beautiful openings I’ve ever read in a script. To me, it was like, ‘Who’s this woman?’ And as a reader (of the script), I wanted to take that journey with her,” Theron said.
Theron and Arriaga appeared together on the Charlie Rose Show the same day. I missed it, but I heard reports that both had praise for Las Cruces and their filming experiences here.
“Charlize has a crush on New Mexico. She loves it,” Arriaga said.
Theron’s film credits in our territory also include “North County,” filmed in 2005 in Silver City.
Both times I’ve interviewed Arriaga, the Mexico City native has said he wants to make more films here and stressed that he’s serious about buying a home in Las Cruces.
Rumors have been afloat (if rumors can do that, in high desert county, here in Hollywood on the Rio Grande) that two major motion pictures are contemplating filming here soon. One rumor was confirmed last week, when a casting director put out a call for 100 drivers and their cars to appear in “Due Date,” a new comedy starring two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis and Michelle Monaghan.
Maybe we’ll see you — along with many of the rest of us, and the always photogenic Organ Mountains — in the movies.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It’s time to tout tours in Southern New Mexico

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Las Cruces has plenty of attractions to tout, tour and celebrate at the upcoming WHAT’S ART? convention.
After we ran a story about Jackie Clark’s spectacular project, designing 46 stained glass window for Mesilla Valley Hospice’s chapel, I got a nice note from artist Jo-an Smith.
She wrote that “Jackie is one of our state’s and region’s unsung art heroes. The huge widows she created for NMSU’s Engineering Building would have been an unusual achievement, not to mention the churches and many, many privately owned windows” the 86-year old artist has created.
“As Las Cruces comes into its own as a New Mexico arts destination, I believe Jackie’s windows will be an important element to draw people here,” Jo-an said.
As it happened, I’d been thinking about taking my own private tour: Clark has six windows at NMSU.
And we have a wealth of glass treasures by other artists, too. There are those spectacular windows at Unitarian Universalist Church, including nine ecumenical “windows of faith” designed and created by the late Rev. John Trantham. And the church’s Tombaugh Gallery stained glass biographical panorama dedicated to the legendary astronomer and discoverer of (the maybe-drawf-but-still-a-planet-dammit) Pluto.
And that’s just a sampling of some of the great stained glass here, enough to warrant a stained glass tour.
In fact, we have enough hot stuff in Las Cruces now to warrant several tours. Historical tours. Garden tours. Home tours. Ghost tours. Culinary tours. Wine tours. Museum tours. Church tours. Dance tours. Lit & poetry tours. Theater tours. Historic plaza and neighborhood tours. Space history tours. Agricultural tours. Chile tours. ¡Fiesta tours!
And lots and lots of art tours, from this month’s annual ArtsHop tour of galleries to a burgeoning number of studio tours during February For the Love of Art Month. And in recent years, some downtown artists’ colonies have organized their own little tours, too. (The next one, coordinated by Ouida Touchon, will be over Thanksgiving weekend.)
In fact, we have so many attractions to tout now that tours might be a focal point for the growing number of arts marketing-oriented groups and projects.
How about some specialized tour brochures, a tour Web site, or even a tour bus or fleet?
I’ve always kind of longed for a Las Cruces arts tour bus, or even a limousine fleet during ArtsHop, even before it got so big. It would’ve been particularly nice during this month’s rainy ArtsHop 16. I hear plans are afoot to bring a double decker bus here for Winterfest, which last year offered horse-drawn carriages for downtown tours.
We could have a bus tour of artists’ studios, or even artists’ groups, with dozens of organizations that range from grandmom of them all, the Doña Ana Arts Council, to the Las Cruces Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and CAPA, the group that showcased regional artists, whose original works adorned the wall surrounding our new Las Cruces City Hall during construction.
A group that joined for an arts marketing brainstorming session convention in 2008 is getting together again this year the 2nd Annual WHAT'S ART? Convention Oct. 2 and 3 at Court Youth Center/Alma d’arte Charter School. Court Street will be blocked off on Saturday, Oct. 3 for the Street Fest portion of the event.
John Villani, author of “100 best Small Art Cities” will speak at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 2 about “communities creating themselves as centers of art, creativity and livability.” Sabrina Pratt, executive director of the Santa Fe Arts Commission will also join the discussion.
“We’ll have workshops all day Oct. 3 and free Street Fest events from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We’ll have music, dance, theater, art to sell, and lots of activities for all ages.,” said Irene Oliver-Lewis.
There will also be some tours: The street festival will feature storytelling tours of the Alameda and Mesquite neighborhoods and Mesilla by expert historians and activities for all ages.
For information, contact (575) 541-0145, e-mail, or visit online at
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

The Burning Plain debuts in Las Cruces

See “The Burning Plain”
Limited National Release Date: Today
Local screenings: The Fountain Theatre in Mesilla, Nov. 6-12
Regional: Santa Fe: CCA Cinematheque Oct. 9
Video on demand: Check with your cable or satellite TV provider
Rating: R-17, nudity and language
Closer look
• Plot: A woman on the edge takes an emotional journey back to the defining moment of her life. Oscar-winner Charlize Theron plays Sylvia, a beautiful restaurant manager whose cool, professional demeanor masks the sexually charged storm within. When a stranger from Mexico confronts her with her mysterious past, Sylvia is launched into a journey through space and time that inextricably connects her to disparate characters, all of whom are grappling with their own romantic destinies.
In Mexico, a young motherless girl, Maria (Tessa Ia), lives happily with her father and his best friend until a tragic accident changes it all. In the New Mexico border town of Las Cruces, two teenagers, Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Santiago (JD Pardo), find love in the aftermath of their parents’ sudden deaths. In an abandoned trailer, a housewife, Gina (Oscar-winner Kim Basinger), embarks on a passionate affair that will put Sylvia and the others on a collision course with the explosive power of forbidden love.
• Writer/ Director: Guillermo Arriaga
• Stars: Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, John Corbett, Joaquim De Almeida, Danny Pino, Jose Maria Yazpik, Jennifer Lawrence
• Primary locations: Las Cruces and Portland, Ore.
• Producers: Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald
• Executive producers: Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban, Charlize Theron, Alisa Tager, Ray Angelic and Marc Butan
Source: Producers of “The Burning Plain” and Magnolia Pictures

“A powerful, compelling and shocking drama that will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger deliver explosive performances. A certain must-see this fall!”
Pete Hammond, Los Angeles Times/The Envelope

“The various parts of the story converge perfectly, like the pieces of a puzzle. Guilt is uncovered, emotional hang-ups addressed, and meaning restored to life.” Philadelphia Inquirer

“A full-on, Oscar-booking keystone performance by Charlize Theron and a revelatory turn by young newcomer Jennifer Lawrence steer this potentially over-the-top tale ... the games ‘The Burning Plain’ plays with its audience are amply justified by the emotional punch of the film's denouement.”
Lee Marshall of

“Two teenagers, whose parents burned to death in bed, don their loved-ones’ night clothes and climb into the sack together. It’s all done with po-faced seriousness and obviously meant to be profound, but in fact it's a load of rubbish ... So the biggest surprise in ‘The Burning Plain’ is how two beautiful Oscar-winning actresses ended up in one god-awful movie.”

“You may be ahead of the curve in figuring out the connections between the characters and the storylines, but that doesn’t mitigate the depth of feeling the film captures. Inevitability doesn’t subtract from the power of fate. ‘The Burning Plain’ is immensely satisfying story-telling, and a film in danger of being lost in the rush of fall releases. Don't let it get away from you.”
Marshall Fine,

Online extra: To see the trailer for “The Burning Plain,” go to and click on this story.

'Burning Plain' arrives amid passionate reviews

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
MESILLA — Internationally-renowned writer and director Guillermo Arriaga said he plans to make more movies in Las Cruces and hopes to someday buy a home here.
“To be making a film here is to be blessed. I love it here. I love border towns,” said Arriaga, in Mesilla for a Sept. 11 screening of “The Burning Plain,” which goes into limited national release in the United States today. It was filmed principally in Las Cruces and Oregon in late 2007 and early 2008.
The film, which stars two Academy award winners, Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger, has garnered several positive reviews.
Novelist and screenwriter Arriaga, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for “Babel,” makes his directorial debut with “The Burning Plain,” which he also wrote. He was nominated for The Leone d’Oro (Golden Lion) Award, the highest prize given to a film at the Biennale Venice Film Festival, where actress Jennifer Lawrence won an award for her portrayal of a tormented teen in a border town (Las Cruces).
During a Sept. 10 interview in Mesilla, Arriaga put down his cell phone and reported that his family, including his teenage son and daughter, “are really excited to hear I’m here. We had a great time here. I love this place. I love the people and I hope they’re happy with us. I think Las Cruces looks beautiful in the movie.”
A friendship with Gov. Bill Richardson and an extensive tour of the state was not enough to entice him to shoot the film in northern New Mexico, he said.
“I suppose the right thing to do was to shoot in Albuquerque. But it was not the kind of landscapes I thought would work for the movie. I was mesmerized by your place — the Organ Mountains, the flavor, the light, the neighborhoods.”
He said he had to adjust the budget to bring in professionals who would have been available at other locations.
“But it was worth it to sacrifice shooting days to film in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” he said.
Arriaga, who still makes his home in his native Mexico City, said he wanted “to honor this area. I wanted to realistically portray life here and its contradictions. I’m tired of seeing the Borderlands portrayed as only a place of crime and illegal immigration. It’s not the only reality. This is also a place of love stories.”
He said the film “has done very good box office in Italy, Spain and England” and finds that critics “either really love it or really hate it. I like that. When a movie causes reactions so intense, it’s because it’s so alive.”
He said the production hired several local crew and cast members during production in Las Cruces, including students trained at New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute.
A full house packed the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla for the early screening.
Jeff Berg of Las Cruces, a longtime movie buff and critic, called the film “a very good thinking person’s romance. There’s nothing fluffy about it.”
Rosemary McLoughlin noted that a scene filmed in the doorway of her Mesilla adobe home had apparently been left on the cutting room floor, but concluded it was all for the best.
“I think the ending he (Arriaga) chose was more effective,” she said.
“I loved it. The story of the little girl was so touching,” said Patricia Bartlett of Las Cruces.
“I’m very proud of the movie. I’m very happy with it,” said Arriaga, now on a promotional tour for the film that took him to Sweden the day after his Mesilla appearance.
“My books have been published in Swedish and translated into eight languages. I was a novelist way before I got into cinema,” said Arriaga, 51.
His works include international best sellers “A Sweet Scent of Death” “Guillotine Squad” and “The Night Buffalo.” His film honors include a 2005 Cannes Film Festival best screenplay award for “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.”
Arriaga said he enjoyed working with Basinger “who was introspective and just right for this part” and with Theron, whose portrayal in the film was characterized as “Oscar worthy” by a critic.
“Charlize has guts," Arriaga said. "She’s pure talent. And she has a crush on New Mexico. She loves it.”
He said he’s superstitious about speculating on awards and future projects, but admitted ideas were percolating during his visit.
“There is such a diversity of landscapes here. My mind has been thinking of shooting in the pecan trees. And your downtown has a very strong, intense flavor.”
The Sept. 11 “Burning Plain” screening was a benefit for the Mesilla Valley Film Society, which will show the film for a weeklong run beginning Nov. 6.
Russell Allen of Allen Theaters said the regional chain has made inquiries about the film.
“But so far, it’s only in limited release and not available. If the film does well, we’ll keep trying to get it,” Allen said.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, September 11, 2009

Big changes for Las Cruces Downtown

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — The crowds were dancing and sampling salsa in the middle of the street. And, as it happened, it was the street that we’d worked so hard to reopen to traffic.
It took years of planning and controversy and millions of dollars to complete that model block on the Downtown Mall between Las Cruces Avenue and Griggs Avenue.
I thought about that and other changes I’ve seen in the last 15 years as I walked from the thriving Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market in its “old” home to its future home on the block that now houses the restored state-of-the-art Rio Grande Theatre. (The historic landmark is also New Mexico’s oldest adobe theater.)
The mood on the block I’d left behind was definitely “last hurrah.” Some vendors were doing their best to accentuate the positive, but many were sad and worried and some told me they were throwing in the towel and not inclined to make the move.
The first weekends in the new location will be an adjustment and many of the artists and vendors will miss the opening transition since they had already planned to participate in regional festivals during the long Labor Day weekend.
I’m a market regular and hope other regulars will keep the faith during the transition, and that all the farmers and artists we come to see will hang in there, too.
I walked from the soon-to-be-transformed block (always my personal favorite) flourishing in full-tilt fiesta mode, to the recently revamped block, hosting enthusiastic crowds enjoying the brand-new, very promising MainStreet SalsaFest.
Would someone time traveling from 20 years ago recognize downtown Las Cruces today? In fact, will we, in another couple of years?
After decades of stagnation, things finally seem to be happening very fast ... and in a recession, too.
At least, that was the opinion of a museum expert who came here to interview Las Crucens, me included, about plans for a Las Cruces history museum in the old Amador Hotel.
I haven’t heard about the final report yet, but I did turn the tables and ask her about her impressions. She said she was amazed at all the construction going on in the downtown area and around Las Cruces, like nothing else she’d seen in her travels around the country during these tough economic times.
I thought about all the new things that I see now that didn’t exist in my first ambles down the Downtown Mall in the mid-1990s ... from stylish lampposts and benches to the behemoth, burgeoning silhouettes of the new federal courthouse and Las Cruces’ almost-complete new city hall.
And I thought about things I no longer see that I saw then: Inebriated and homeless people sleeping in doorways, sometimes including migrant moms with small children asking for a dollar.
We didn’t have the Community of Hope or Jardin de los Niños then.
We had some of the same buildings in other forms, too often, crumbling. What was then Court Junior High was a decaying haven for druggies and some pretty scary characters before it was transformed into the Pueblo Revival showplace and home of Alma d’arte Charter School. The Railroad Depot was there but it wasn’t a restored museum. And it would be some years before a major asbestos removal program would make the Las Cruces Museum of Art possible.
We gained some and lost some. A gallery burned down years ago, and White Raven, Griggs & Reymond and most recently IN EFFECT are among downtown galleries that have closed their doors. But several new art galleries have sprung up: Main Street and The Big Picture, UnRavel, Blue Gate, M. Phillips, Art of Life, Justus Wright and the brand new Tierra Montaña, plus the Cottonwood Gallery in the Southwest Environmental Center, Ocotillo Roasters Evergreen Gallery, and two galleries in the Rio Grande Theatre. And Ceil and Peter Herman gave us not only a brand new theater, the Black Box, but also a gallery with rotating exhibits.
The little Log Cabin Museum left the mall, but the next museum move will be a big one, when what was once the modest Mesilla Valley Mall’s Las Cruces Natural History Museum becomes the Museum of Nature and Science, 8,900-square-foot showplace in the old Bank of the Rio Grande Building on the Downtown Mall.
Forms are changing, but the city’s alma y corazon, heart and soul, appear to be growing stronger.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, September 4, 2009

Querencia double rainbows mark a soul’s true home

By S. Derrickson Moore/Sun-News reporter

LAS CRUCES — I was looking forward to the end of a 12-hour day at the office.
I admit I was a little crabby as I headed to a press conference that was late in starting.
It was an outside event with no shelter. It was hot and muggy. Then it started to rain. After almost two decades in Oregon, I always have at least four umbrellas, but that day, I’d left them all in the car, parked a few blocks away.
“How could this day get any worse?” I was thinking, when suddenly it got a lot better.
I was coaxed out of my refuge under the arches of the Rio Grande Theatre by a chorus of “Ooooo”s and “Ahhhhh”s.
Arching across the sky was one of the most spectacular double rainbows I’ve seen. One of the ends, at least from my perspective, seemed to glow around the crosses of the ethereal, skeletal St. Genevieve monument.
I’ve always taken rainbows personally. They are clearly messages from heaven.
I know some cultures see them as dire omens. But not mine. After the devastating floods, in Genesis 9:12-13, God tells Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
And who could ignore a double rainbow?
Even people who never stop to smell the roses would find it nearly impossible to pause for a rainbow display in the Land of Enchantment, where I’ve seen the best rainbows in a life of global travels.
New Mexico is the only place I’ve seen a snowbow, a pastel milagro I spotted early one winter morning when I was headed to work in Las Cruces in a haze of crystal flurries.
This state is also the only place I’ve glimpsed a full moon rainbow, again in Las Cruces, and at least half a dozen triple rainbows.
There was one the day I left Santa Fe for Florida, a break in the midst of a major deluge, and I saw another triple rainbow seven years later in Las Cruces, when I moved here.
Maybe a rainbow’s meaning is not always crystal clear and maybe, like so many messages from a source of greater wisdom, we inadvertently or willfully misinterpret them.
But a rainbow can compel the most obvious among us to pause, and as noted, a double or triple rainbow definitely gets my attention.
Does a rainbow portend a leave-taking or a homecoming? Is it time to park the ark and settle down or sail on for greener shores? Sometimes I take stock and realize many of the people I love most in the world live hundreds or thousands of miles away, including a half dozen erstwhile Las Crucens who have become my dearest amigo-soulmates, discovered in the Land of Enchantment, whose lives and duties called them elsewhere.
There are moments to ponder, even among those of us who feel we have found our querencia. And I think about that lovely Spanish word that conjures a soul’s home, a very special, even destined, relationship between a person and a special place.
Can a city, a querencia community, be a soulmate in itself? I’d say so.
I’d think at the very least, I might be able to reassure my friends at the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market that it’s okay to move to the Rio Grande Theatre/St. Genevieve block, at least for a little while.
That is, after all, where the double rainbow seemed to end.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.