by Elizabeth Cunningham
The long-awaited Taos premiere of the biographical documentary Awakening in Taos: The Mabel Dodge Luhan Story happens at 7 p.m. this Friday, April 29th, at the Taos Community Auditorium. This is the extended, theatrical cut of the upcoming documentary for PBS. The broadcast version of the film is currently in post-production.
A film synopsis follows.
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This stunning film reveals the personal evolution of a woman one hundred years ahead of her time. Mabel Dodge Luhan was a writer and advocate for the arts, women’s rights and Native American culture. In her late thirties she arrived at a small town in Northern New Mexico and embraced a Native culture in a way that seized the attention of the artistic and literary world.
Her unconventional marriage to Antonio Lujan, a full-blooded Tiwa Indian from Taos Pueblo, created a revolutionary bridge between two cultures, putting Taos on the world map as a place of distinctive beauty and transformative spiritual power.
Their home became a haven of inspiration and creativity for writers and artists such as D. H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Andrew Dasburg, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
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Shot entirely in New Mexico with a local cast and crew, the film features breathtaking cinematography and aerial footage of Taos landscapes and landmarks. These physical features produced a visual response captured in 20th-century paintings and photos by Mabel’s guests.
I asked writer/director Mark Gordon about how he settled on Mabel. Her book, Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality, captivated him. He realized that the story of this independent woman, writer, salon hostess and social activist–born in Buffalo, New York who moved from Greenwich Village to Taos in 1918–would make an interesting documentary.
In 2006 Mark landed the job that launched his envisioned film. The Taos Chamber of Commerce hired him for on-camera interviews with ten people who knew Mabel. That led to a three-day shoot at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. The rest is, as they say, history…and a story in itself.
It took ten arduous years for Mark to research and write the script, consult with Mabel experts, shoot footage, procure photographs, and raise funds for the film. When this process neared completion, he began to think about actors. On the plane from L.A. he sat next to Ali MacGraw. He learned that On the Edge of Taos Desert was one of her favorite books. After she volunteered to read passages for a fund-raiser at the Harwood Museum, her selection as the film’s narrator seemed only natural. Through Mabel’s biographer Lois Rudnick, Mark met Leslie Harrell Dillen. He discovered that she had written and acted in the one-woman play, “The Passions of Mabel Dodge Luhan.” Both actors succeeded in making Mabel come to life.
Mark also acknowledges his fellow filmmakers and partners, who “became like a family.” It amazed him how “the collaboration of so many people grew into such a fine product.” He and his team are grateful to the many fans, friends and businesses that made this project possible.
Asked about his goals for the film, Mark replied:
We want viewers to fall in love with Taos, its history, its landscape and its cultures. We would like people to realize that they can fulfill their destinies by following their hearts, taking risks and having faith.
Details: Friday, April 29th 7:00pm at the Taos Community Auditorium. $15 ticket includes introduction, screening and Q&A with the filmmakers.
Ticket information: call Taos Center for the Arts box office (575) 758-2052 (Monday – Friday, 10 to 5) or purchase tickets online at TCATAOS.org in the Calendar section.
If you miss this performance, as part of the Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company exhibition, the Harwood Museum of Art is hosting two more screenings: evening performance on Friday, May 27th (followed with a Salon Style Q&A led by Director, Mark Gordon), and a matinee on Saturday, May 28th.
Awakening in Taos: The Mabel Dodge Luhan Story won Best Feature made in New Mexico at the 2015 Santa Fe Film Festival. More information available at Awakening in Taos.