Rio Grande Serenade


UNM – Taos Digital Media Arts is taking it to the next level!

With Rio Grande Serenade, the UNM-Taos Digital Media Arts Program is involved in its most ambitious project to date; a documentary film about the river that runs through the heart of Northern New Mexico; a paean to El Norte’s source of life.

Shooting with Canon large format cameras and Go Pro’s (in the air and water) this documentary film features snowstorms, mountains, rivers, high desert wildlife, a 30 million year old tectonic rift and the stories of those who call it home. This film portrays the “epic saga of water and survival” in the high desert of Northern New Mexico. 

Today this watershed is under incredible stress as management agencies must allocate water for desert cities like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This film acknowledges the rich history and modern challenges as a canvas for telling remarkable stories of resilience and tenacity.

I met with UNM-Taos DMA Chair Peter Walker last week to discuss the ongoing project. He was, needless to say, excited about the project as well as the DMA Program itself.  “In the spring of 2019 we graduated our first six students with their Associates degree in Digital Media Arts and one student with his core completion of all eight media classes.  With these skilled advanced students, we are now able to produce high quality media that matters.”

Peter said his program recently received a media entrepreneur grant to train students in using cutting edge technology and developing high level skills for a successful career.  This documentary project is a perfect venue for students to get hands-on experience with a production which is bound for distribution into the film industry. Also, Canon and UNM-Taos have created a partnership with Digital Media Arts to support the program via social media PR from their New York Headquarters as well as sending out additional cameras and lenses to be used in the shooting of this film. These students have earned and accomplished so much, thanks to the support of the UNM-Taos Administrative team

The tight production schedule has followed the Rio Grande’s rise as spring snowmelt flowed down from the top of the Sangre de Christos to the Albuquerque Bosque down south. The crew has met and documented many interesting people along the way who have forged extraordinary relationships with the river and its environs.

“The strong tradition in Taos of keeping a watchful eye on natures’ fragile resources and fighting to defend them, plays a big role in the storyline,” Peter told me.

One of the people that the film zeros in on, is Cisco Guevara, owner of Los  Rios Rafting company. 

A river runner since his teenage days in Los Alamos, where his father was a scientist, Cisco has become a New Mexico legend: In 2010, he was named one of the Top Ten River Guides in New Mexico. But Cisco is also known for his gift as a storyteller. Guevara’s stories range from his rebellious youth, to tales that draw on his Hispanic and Native American heritage, to hair-raising adventures in the wilderness, to haunting tales of love and loss. 

The decision to make the film at this time was a matter of many factors coming together. Documentary Film Festivals are rising in popularity, and the Telluride Mountain Film Festival recently celebrated it’s 41st year and Peter was able to take his advanced students to the festival for five days. They are supercharged to create a documentary of their own which can be entered for the 2020 festival. The Rio Grande was recently put on American Rivers’ 100 most endangered rivers list, making Rio Grande Serenade both timely and relevant!

From the Taos Ski Valley, where the crew will be filming to tell the story about the resort’s relationship to the snowpack that feeds into the Rio Grande, the DMA students are also filming the Acequia Farmers in the valleys, who irrigate their lands using ancient yet practical techniques brought here with them during Spanish colonial times, that deserve to be shared on the big screen. 

The Taos Water Protectors who continue the long tradition here, of keeping a vigilant eye on our fragile resources, are included in the documentary,  as are the river guides and adventure seekers who work on the river, which provides hundreds of jobs, annually. 

The film is a serenade which means music plays a role here too; “The audience will enjoy original music sequences throughout the film. Spanish guitar, soulful ballads and ambient sounds are used to transport the audience from a dark theatre into the emotional magnitude of the high desert watershed. This is a playfully poetic and important story, without shying away from the tough conflicts that need to be exposed. It’s also very much a character driven film.” Peter said.

If you have been following my blog posts covering the UNM-Taos DMA Program over the past year or so, this is the culmination of an on-going process of cutting edge education that encourages practical application.

“We get out there and do stuff,” Peter said as our conversation came to a close. “This film showcases our program and students in the best way possible.”

As noted prior, Rio Grande Serenade will be entered for consideration at select Film Festivals, including the Telluride Mountain Film Festival. 

The team working on this documentary includes;
Peter Walker – Chair of the Digital Media Arts Program UNM Taos, Adventure Filmmaker 

Matthew Carman – Canon Rep who will be teaching his sixth UNM-Taos Canon workshop at the end of September 

Advanced DMA students 

Genevee Boyd – Aspiring production manager

Noah Yacko – Creative mind and emerging media entrepreneur  

Sally Savage – Screenwriter and winner of Canon video creator kit 

Colin Hubbard – Ultralight pilot, flying cameraman and winner of  Canon video creator kit

David Mapes – Gallery owner, special effects creator and winner of  Canon video creator kit

Aytr Cederlof – Multi-media creator and winner of  Canon video creator kit

Isaiah Galante – Sound engineer and local hip hop music producer

Stay tuned for more on UNM-Taos Digital Media Arts in the weeks and months ahead, but in the meanwhile, do visit their site linked below for more on what they do and offer!



All photographs thanks to Peter Walker and UNM-Taos DMA