Last year, Taos said a reluctant farewell to the Taos Shortz Film Festival. The festival's 10th annual edition was intended as its grand finale. Co-founders Duprelon "Tizzz" Tizdale and Anna Cosentine, along with production manager and longtime collaborator Johnny Long, were celebrating Taos Shortz' decade of success while looking forward to new adventures and new projects.
Then, fate intervened.
Tizdale, usually an athletic whir of human energy in motion, was badly injured in a bicycle accident and confined to a long stretch of rest. Meanwhile, hopeful filmmakers were still filling his inbox with films, and community members were calling and emailing with requests for another season of the popular festival.
The serendipitous silver lining to Tizdale's accident is an unexpected 11th edition of Taos Shortz, now titled "Taos Shortz Reboot 3.3." The event will run Friday through Sunday (March 9-11), with screenings throughout each day and evening at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
"I suddenly had time on my hands and nothing to do but watch movies," Tizdale recalled. "Without me getting hurt, I might not have done this. I watched film submissions for hours, day after day, and they were so good. And I wanted to do it for the community. It not only brings in world-class entertainment. It brings a lot of money into town."
The rebooted festival is a stripped-down, quality-over-quantity version, focused on a smaller number of films and fewer extraneous frills.
"When I decided to go for it, there was no time to do any real fundraising at that point. We used to do that in slow season," Tizdale explained. "So, I said, 'OK, but let's keep it small.' I looked at thousands of good films, and narrowed it down to 33 amazing ones. It was a lot harder to choose just 33 than it was to choose 150 in past years. But, the films we've ended up with are impeccable."
The films represent work from 14 countries, all completed more recently than 2016, and unavailable online or anywhere outside of the festival circuit. Nearly all are New Mexico premieres. "Pre-Drink," "Red Tale" and "The Last Virgin" are being seen here for the first time ever in the United States. "Garden Party" and "Negative Space" are nominated for Academy Awards (still upcoming at the time of this writing). Without having imposed any deliberate bias on the selection process, Tizdale said he found that nearly half of his chosen 33 films were directed by women.
While past Taos Shortz programs have been curated around specific themes, this year's films are organized more for a sense of flow, like musical set lists. "Program 3 does have a preponderance of films about sex and relating," Tizdale said. "And Program 4 is a set of films 'Made in America.' This was done so that filmmakers coming to Taos for the festival, most of whom are from within the United States, could have the chance to schedule their time in Taos together."
The other programs span a range of diverse topics and nationalities. Program 1 opens with "Rooted in Love," by Taos filmmaker Jody McNicholas (see sidebar). Her documentary follows a day in the life of Micah Roseberry: organic farmer, sustainability activist and proprietor of El Prado's Farmhouse Café.
Tizdale gave an overview of some of the standout offerings. "'Mato Twilight' is a great Chinese film about generations of women. 'Alzhaïmour,' from Belgium, is about two little lovebirds, both with Alzheimer's. 'Robot & Scarecrow' is just an oddball story. A scarecrow gets to live free for one day, and he wanders into a music festival and meets a kind of pop-princess robot. He's got limited time, and she's got a limited battery life.
"In 'Mary Mother,' from Afghanistan, a woman tries to go and reclaim the body of her dead son. It's interesting. We got a lot of submissions on the theme of mothers. Right before 'Mary Mother' in Program 1 is a brilliant Spanish film called 'Madre.' It's so good, all filmed in a single shot, during a phone call, where we see one side of the call, and the mother is there hearing and reacting to that one side of the conversation."
He described some of the quirky relationship-themed highlights from Program 3. "In 'Bonboné,' a prisoner and his wife are trying to maneuver a way for her to get pregnant during a prison visit. 'She'eriot' is about a woman caring for her wheelchair-bound partner. 'Red Tale' is a dark fairy tale, Bluebeard meets Red Riding Hood."
The Festival also plans a bonus screening of "Tribal Radio," a documentary film about the history of the Southern Ute tribe's KSUT, one of the first tribal radio stations in the country. "Tribal Radio" recently won Best Native American Documentary at the 2018 Santa Fe Film Festival.
A new feature this year is that each program will screen twice. Programs 1-3 will be shown on Friday, Program 4 on Saturday afternoon, then the cycle repeats beginning Saturday evening and throughout the day on Sunday.
Tizdale largely financed the event out-of-pocket, from his non-stop, in-demand work in most every imaginable aspect of the film industry. "Because I'm a union professional, I work in art technology, I'm a digital imaging technician, drone pilot, all these facets that help people make movies. I've been in this industry for so long, that's how I'm funding this -- on movie sets."
Tizdale's drone skills have manifested in his own flourishing Taos-based business, Aerocus Aerials, providing services from mapping and surveying to adding dazzling overhead sequences to movies. Far beyond strapping a camera onto a drone and sending it up in the air, Aerocus offers customers the benefit of Tizdale's decades of cinematography, set work, flight time and creativity, elevating drone work to an art form in itself.
The post-2018 future of the festival is not yet known. Tizdale has projects lined up immediately after this year's edition, including work on an undisclosed Netflix series and several feature films.
He shared his vision for building a viable filmmaking destination in Taos. "There's no reason that can't happen here as it has in Albuquerque. It comes down to money. With the kind of money that Hollywood films are spending, they expect a level of services, and an accessible, securable, sound-proofable big empty building with good hotel rooms close by. We have talented folks here. It's a good green industry, and we could be able to jump into the greater filmmaking marketplace of the world. We're so close to it. We're close enough to Hollywood. It's about bringing the future here, getting our kids involved. Taos could also become a destination for skilled post-processing, color correction, that kind of work."
For the present, he encouraged the community to come and enjoy the Festival. "Come out, meet the filmmakers, see some exceptional global works."
Individual tickets are $10, $12 and $15. An all-access pass is $44. For advance ticket purchase and detailed program information, visit taosshortz.com.