There are few more visual delights than a leisurely drive south to Taos, N.M. in early spring. That's when the cottonwoods and willows lining the ditches and lowlands of San Luis begin to glow, and it's when the Talking Picture Festival takes over the beloved mountain village of Taos. In recent years, a scenic dusting of spring snow has accented the festival but hasn't dampened the spirits of those in attendance -- film buffs, directors, performers, media activists, scholars and moviegoers alike seem to relish the laid-back atmosphere of this film festival, one of the nation's most thoughtful, low-key and intriguing.
If the thought of trying to attend a film festival intimidates you, don't be intimidated. This one, in spite of a hefty lineup of films and events, is relatively painless to attend. The town is easily navigable and many of the festival's events occur in one location, the Taos Civic Center, site of the Media Forum and three screens -- the Forum Room, the Rio, and the Downtown Cinema. The box office this year is located down the highway in the Holiday Inn, so go there first for a schedule of events and to pick up film tickets, then either sidle next door to the multiplex Storyteller Cinema where four screens are dedicated to showing festival films, or head back into town, park for the day and navigate the Forum and festival on foot. The Civic Center is within easy walking distance of Taos's lovely city park, the famous Taos Plaza, and numerous galleries and restaurants.
The best reason to headquarter at the Civic Center is to attend the Media Forum, one of the least understood but most interesting events at TTPF. These free lecture-and-discussion sessions explore movies, television, advertising and other media to help the audience better understand the impact of mass media on our culture. Past presenters have included luminaries like historian Howard Zinn. This year, Forum attendees will hear journalist and author Farai Chideya's analysis of the diversity of today's teenage and 20-something population, bucking the media's tendency to homogenize, simplify and stereotype. Author Juan Gonzalez (Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America) will challenge media preconceptions of Latino culture, and cultural critic Naomi Klein will discuss the anti-corporate grassroots activist movement described in her groundbreaking book, No Logo.
Equally as challenging but possibly more entertaining will be the Media Forum's presentation of "Subversive Cinema: Remembering De Antonio," a celebration of Emile De Antonio, legendary chronicler of the 1960s and 1970s underground. Each year, Subversive Cinema honors a filmmaker who worked against the Hollywood grain, creating works that provoked and enlightened. De Antonio's best-known work is Millhouse: A White Comedy, a brutal examination of President Richard Millhouse Nixon using stolen footage from television networks. Millhouse will be screened as part of the tribute.
Most of the film screenings at TTPF begin with a new, original short film, introduced by the filmmaker, and feature films generally are followed by a question-and-answer session with the director or other principals in the film.
Chosen from more than 1,600 submissions, this year's film schedule includes films from 25 countries, and features 16 world or U.S. premieres. Among the selection of new American cinema that will be seen at Taos this year are Delivering Milo starring Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott and Albert Finney; the film adaptation of Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor starring Nathan Lane; and Five Girls, a documentary by the company that produced Hoop Dreams following five Chicago teenage girls over the course of three years, through adolescence and into womanhood.
For a complete schedule of films and events, call 505/751-0637 or check out the comprehensive and easily navigable Web site at: www.ttpix.org.