'Cortez'

Homegrown movie returns to the TCA for four-day run

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When "Cortez" -- a movie filmed entirely in and around Taos -- first premiered here in October, 2016, it was a one-night-only event, and many fans were turned away from the packed Taos Community Auditorium.

"It was full beyond capacity," said the film's co-producer Johnny Long. "We had to say no to so many friends, even people who'd worked on the movie."

Those who missed "Cortez" the first time will now have the chance to see it in a four-day run at the TCA, beginning with a 2 p.m. matinée this Sunday, Jan. 14, and continuing with 7 p.m. showings Monday-Wednesday, Jan. 15-17.

"Cortez" was directed by Cheryl Nichols, who cowrote the script with Taoseño Arron Shiver. The two also costarred in the film, with Shiver as struggling musician Jesse, and Nichols as his old flame Anne. When Jesse's musical career flounders, he returns home and tries to reconcile with Anne and young son Ben (played by Shiver's real-life son Jackson). Locals will recognize Taos' own Kristian Moore and Dylan Kenin in featured roles as well as many friends and neighbors as background players in various scenes.

TCA film programmer Peter Halter spoke about his affection for the film. "I had the good fortune to see 'Cortez' when it played at the Slamdance Festival in Park City, Utah, right across the street from the Egyptian theater where I was working with the Sundance Festival films. Some of it was actually shot at the TCA, so it was really a treat to see it in its finished form. I'd been showing a lot of indie films at Sundance, and 'Cortez' was as good or better, right up there with anything I had seen. I wanted to show it at the TCA as soon as they were done with their festival run. I know a lot of the people who worked on it, so getting to see them in their moment at Slamdance was great. It was such a joy and honor to witness it. I want people to experience that."

"Slamdance was a whirlwind," said Nichols. "Premiering my first film, answering the same questions over and over was more difficult than I anticipated. I feel self-conscious about repeating myself, so I was always trying to say something new. Big mistake. It's hard to talk about myself or take credit for work I've done, but after the fourth festival, I realized that the self-consciousness I was experiencing in answering these questions over and over was more about feeling like I was meant to defend my work. 'Cortez' is very personal to me. I wrote it with Arron when we were just getting to know each other, I directed it, and then there I am up on the screen, ten feet tall, exposed (literally and figuratively) for everyone to see. So I can't really hide from any aspect of its presentation."

Shiver spoke about the experience of touring festivals with the film. "When I was a teenager, my mother was the graphic designer for the original Taos Talking Picture Festival. I had already decided that I wanted to be an actor, so I would take advantage of getting tickets to all the movies and parties, and ended up seeing a bunch of small films and meeting independent filmmakers that had a profound influence on my life. Touring with the film this year as it's made its rounds to many prestigious festivals all over the country, I have been struck many times by the feeling that I have now become one of these filmmakers that my teenage self was so influenced by. I am amazed that we were even able to pull it off, and I am so happy that other serious people see its value."

Cassidy Freeman co-produced the film and also appears on-screen. The seasoned actor-producer has had long-running roles as Tess Mercer in "Smallville," Cady Longmire in "Longmire" and numerous other series and films.

"The thing I've enjoyed the most of our festival run is getting to know different cities and getting to talk to people face to face after seeing the film," she said. "There is nothing like hearing someone's review in person to really understand what the film can do. I'm so happy that we get to share it in Taos again. Absolute gratitude for Taos' welcoming arms and incredible skies."

The multi-talented Long, beloved of Taos audiences for his comedic and dramatic stage performances, has decades of film experience in acting, design and production. "For this kind of project that has little or no budget, when it's a project that's just something from the heart -- the only way that happens is that everyone just pours all of themselves into it, and everyone did," he said. "I was overwhelmed by the support from friends here, from the community. We wouldn't have been able to make the film without that and I'm so grateful for it. I was really moved by that. Cheryl is a phenomenal director, and this was her first film. The tone she achieved is consistent and beautiful and strong. From the first time I read the script, I really resonated with it in my own personal history. We're proud of the film. It really spotlights Taos -- the town is a character in itself, the amazingly beautiful light and sky and land, and of course the fantastic collage of all the people who live here. People at screenings around the country would ask, 'Where did you find all these wild characters to cast?' I'd tell them, 'Those are my friends!'"

Said Shiver, "We are so happy and so grateful that the TCA has slotted us into the program for this year. Above all, this is a Taos movie, so we hope everybody comes to see it! Taos, te amo. Te adoro."

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