Know Your Neighbor: Jean Stevens

Realizing a film festival dream

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Sometimes, a person has a dream, and his or her work throughout a lifetime provides a background to make that dream come true. In Jean Stevens' case, the dream includes participation in the Taos Environmental Film Festival, a segment of the 2017 Taos Fall Arts Festival.

"I have dreams, but when I wake up, I can't remember them. I do, however, remember the daytime dreams. My most vivid ones are of the Taos Environmental Film Festival," said Stevens, the film festival's director, during a recent interview in El Prado. The festival runs from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 at the Taos Community Auditorium.

Prior to her involvement in this project, Stevens studied extensively in California art schools: Laguna Beach School of Art in Laguna Beach, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo and Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. She earned Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees at the University of California-Irvine. In addition, Stevens worked toward obtaining teaching credentials and licensure.

Stevens said she loves to travel, favoring learning about the architecture, environment, foods and customs of various cultures. During her MFA studies, Stevens lived in a trailer on the UC-Irvine campus. After completing her degree, she sold her trailer and went to Florence, Italy. There, Stevens taught languages and contemporary art history at the Lorenzo de Medici School. "I missed my mom so much, so I decided to return to the United States. I'm glad I did because she later passed away, and we had some time together. She was wonderful," said Stevens. "Her name was Joan Stevens, but she pronounced it Jo Ann. Mom was a writer, a creative thinker, well educated and well read."

Stevens' travels took her on a road trip from San Diego to Costa Rica and also by auto to Vancouver, Canada, as well as towns across Oregon and Washington. Because of her taste for travel, she visited South Asia in the 1970s and toured other places around the world in the 1980s. But it was the Taos area that captured her major interest. "I had visited Taos three times," she said. "I stayed in Pilar and wrote my thesis there. It was in the format of a retablo, but the thesis wasn't religious. It was a self-portrait and somewhat feminist. Of all the places I visited, I chose Taos for my permanent home."

Stevens found a job teaching painting, humanities and art history at Northern New Mexico Community College, based in a Taos High School classroom. From 1994 to 2008, she taught sixth-graders in language and performing arts, among other classes. From 1994 to 2014, Stevens served as an art instructor at University of New Mexico-Taos.

Her education and teaching experience greatly enhanced Stevens' preparation for her current role as film festival director. Stevens' résumé lists 40 art exhibits that showed examples of her work. In 1992, Stevens hosted the six-part "Art Talk" series, in which she captured the stories of local artists Ted Egri, Bea Mandelman, Bill Gersch, Larry Bell, Claire Hayes and Sharon Dry Flower Reyna for Grassroots Video. Stevens has served on the board of the Friends of D.H. Lawrence, the Taos Center for the Arts, Harwood Museum Alliance, the Sierra Club and New Mexico Women in Film. In 2014, Stevens joined the Taos Fall Arts Festival board, of which the Taos Environmental Film Festival is a part.

She approached Steve Gootgeld, the former Taos Fall Arts film director, about showing "The Wise One," one of her works. After the initial work with Gootgeld, Stevens realized that the extremely overworked director received no monetary reward, so she wasn't surprised when he resigned. At the end of 2014, Taos Fall Arts Director Paul Figueroa invited Stevens to fill the film festival director's role based on Gootgeld's recommendation.

Stevens' activities for the festival include creating two posters, a postcard and a brochure. She wrote and delivered an invitation to teachers and students to attend free screenings that include lesson plans and information provided for the films "Chasing Coral," "Coral Reef Adventure" and "Reefs at Risk."

"The world of filmmaking is very helpful in providing a message," said Stevens. "For example, 'Coral Reef Adventure' was filmed under the leadership of Greg Macgillvary in 2003. It was the finest cinematography in the world. Divers went to dangerous depths to share with viewers. Situations in our world have changed. It's important to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth and the beauty of our land."

While the film screenings remain free of charge thanks to local sponsors, donations are accepted. Stevens plans to divide donation proceeds among several nonprofit organizations: Amigos Bravos, Rivers and Birds, Taos Land Trust, Western Environmental Law Center and Taos Fall Arts Festival. Plans also call for a "Kids Give Back Award," with information available on taosfallarts.com, linking to taosfallarts.com/kids-give-back.html.

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