“Let’s make media that matters!”
Peter Walker likes to say. The current Chair of UNM-Taos’ Digital Media Arts Program, Peter has brought this Department up front and center at UNM-Taos’ Campus.
The program leads to an Associate Degree here in Taos, and its curriculum certainly prepares students for their Bachelor Degrees and beyond! The Department’s relationship with Media giant, Canon, certainly doesn’t hurt either. In fact just a week or so ago, Canon’s Matthew Carman was back in Taos teaching a weekend workshop to Peter’s students.
If you have been following my DMA posts, you are aware of the ambitious project Peter and his students are currently engaged in. Rio Grande Serenade has taken the better part of a year to complete, but their goal – to enter it at Film Festivals including Telluride – is in sight!
I’ve been meeting with Peter along the way, getting updated by him on the documentary’s progress, so i was quite unprepared when I popped by UNM-Taos DMA in-town Hub and studio recently, to find Blaise Basara there.
Another incredibly talented person in the field of film making, Blaise is a highly accomplished editor – with a long history in Taos, and after my initial surprise at finding him there, it made perfect sense that Peter had pulled him in to work on editing the footage that he and his students had shot.
Having worked with Blaise in the past on a project of my own (Finding Kinky, a documentary about Kinky Friedman’s run for Governor of Texas), and aware of his expertise, I was inspired to do a post on both of them, and instead of writing a long-winded back story, I figured I’d cut straight to the chase, and dive right in with a few questions for each.
Q) So you two unusual characters have spent more time here than most – are jet setting world travelers, adventurers, explorers – a couple of exceedingly accomplished gentlemen – what (besides the obvious – kids, families), keeps you coming back to Taos?
Peter Walker: Taos is my home. I was born here and the cool mornings, deep blue skies, rivers and mountains are like my baby blanket. My family lives here. My friends live here. I also am super grateful to be a life-long student of a Japanese Martial Art called Aikido and my dedicated Sensei, Craig Dunn has been running the Taos Kihon Dojo here since the 1980’s. Over the years, I’ve realized that as long as I can get one good international trip per year, Taos is the place that sings to my heart and soul.
Blaise Basara: I don’t really have a good answer for this question since I still wonder myself why I keep coming back? But overall it’s the healthy environment, away from the stress and negative impact that all of these metropoli have on our psyche and well-being. I find that silence and serenity is crucial in my life; I still marvel, each morning when I first open my eyes, at the complete lack of noise pollution and delicious stillness, and I am thankful for each day in this appeasing atmosphere that helps me be appreciative of the privilege existence that I lead.
Taos’s great variety of converging artistic and creative energies continue to fuel the unique cultural fabric that has animated this community for decades and continues to do so today; it inspires innovation and motivates artists to push the envelope in their respective disciplines. We have a great freedom of expression that so few have around the world; Taos cultivates this liberty and gives a voice to whomever wants to speak.
The mostly progressive nature and “tempered” social codes of this community is also a heaven in a world that continues to polarize and push people to ideological extremes, furthering the divide between castes, gender, color, economics, politics etc… Taos provides shelter from the capitalistic, greed driven, mercantilist main stream America that is so repulsive to so many of us.
Q) Can you each briefly tell my readers a bit about your backgrounds in film. video and editing?
PW:When I was a young boy in Arroyo Hondo and later near Arroyo Seco my Dad used to set up his 35 millimeter slide projector and cast his images on our wall. It was like magic to me. He showed us black and white images from his time in the Army in Germany. On Saturday nights we would pile into the back of the pickup truck with blankets and head to the drive up movie theater where the Walmart is today. We saw Watership Down, Star Wars and Bladerunner. Pure magic! Me and my friends would be electrified by the images, sounds from the metal speakers and the super intense stories on the massive screen in front of us. Stars overhead.
Fast forward to high school and my Spanish teacher assigned us a group project. My friends and I decided to make a Spanish Horror movie.
Our Spanish was pretty bad and so was the short film but I was hooked! Hooked on the creative process of coming up with ideas and the adrenaline of creating your own images and story. Later in College at the University of Oregon I got a video camera and filmed every trip I went on. Snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor, a Y2K trip with an RV full of friends to Mexico, and would then stay up all night editing something ridiculous using two VCR’s. Eventually I realized that it was possible to edit on a computer! Mind-blown. Buying ram after ram and a 80 gig hard drive I was able to troubleshoot my way through the production of a silly independent film called the Evil Phone Company. Keeping my love for drive-up-movies alive me and my friends hosted a backyard screening party. I was hooked again.
My first paid project was at the tail end of a 6,000 mile motorcycle ride to the Yucatan of Mexico with my partner at the time and I got hired to shoot a promo video for a Eco-Resort in the Sian-Kaan Peninsula.
Years later I decided I wanted a more formal education in filmmaking so I bought a one way ticket to the Asian Academy of Film and Television in New Delhi India. https://aaft.com The Bollywood movies blew my mind with their song and dance sequences and cooled me down for those three hours of air-conditioned bliss. I made a short action film called “the Great Rickshaw Race” for my final student project and was grateful nobody crashed during the filming of it.
I met some fellow student filmmakers who worked for the Bhutan Broadcasting Service and after our Directors course they invited me up to the Himalayas. It was a much-needed reprieve from the stinky heat of New Delhi. They picked me up from the airport in their 1972 Toyota Landcruiser and said, “We’re heading into the mountains to do a documentary about Bhutan’s transition to Democracy”. Gear on horses, up the mountain trail we went. Leeches and all.
Again I was hooked. Storytelling was dirty, sweaty, full of challenges but way too fun!
After this trip, I flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I managed to get hired by a wealthy Malaysian who wanted to shoot pilots for television shows starting with his wife’s cooking show. After that idea totally bombed, I somehow was in the right place at the right time to get hired for two years of behind the scenes for the Arabic World Music Festival in Kuala Lumpur where they brought pop stars from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon to spread peace through music This led to work on a video series covering the finalists for a Responsible Tourism award by Wild Asia where we travelled to Bali, the Palawan Islands, the Indian Himalayas, and the Andaman Sea of Thailand. We covered the story of a small Muslim fishing village that was totally crushed by the Tsunami of 2004. Most of the men were killed by huge waves while out fishing and the waves decimated the school that was yards from the beach. The stories of resilience and courageous villagers amidst such hardship had a profound impact on my life outlook. The power of filmmaking and storytelling in culturally rich places had hooked me again!
After three years doing freelance media projects in South East Asia I was ready to get back to the mountains, the change of seasons and my friends and family.
BB: I started my career in Paris, France in TV and Documentary production in the mid 90’s. I then started my editorial career in Los Angeles California while under contract for two major post production advertising houses for which I cut trailers and promotional material for marketing of feature films; I worked on such acclaimed productions as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Godzilla”, “Once Upon a Time in China”, “Lock, Stock and “Two Smoking Barrels” and many other high-profile productions.
My interests have always resided in documentary film making and was able to land my first feature documentary as an editor during my first stint in L.A., “Operation Thunderbolt” which told the story of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France jet liner from Jerusalem and diverted to the Ugandan city of Entebbe. Notable interviews from Benjamin Netanyahu(current Israeli Prime Minister, hopefully not for long), Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. I am also credited as an editor on the feature documentary “Let the Record Show” which dwelled into the emergence of the A.I.D.S epidemic in the 80’s on the American East Coast and the ensuing artistic movement to bring awareness to the masses about the ravages that the disease had on the gay and straight communities.
My career has led me to work on a plethora of different types of productions, such as short films, EPK’s, Sizzles, TV spots, scripted/unscripted narrative and digital marketing campaigns for commercial branded content. I’m also an on set still photographer to shoot behind the scenes material of productions crews and actors for Hollywood productions
Q)I’ve worked with you both separately, and in both cases have been inspired by the exchange, so you can imagine my surprise finding you together at (UNM-Taos) DMA’s headquarters when I stopped by recently. Please tell us what you have up your sleeves?
PW: For the past 8 years I’ve been teaching media classes for UNM-Taos and for the last three years I’ve been the chair of the Digital Media Arts Department. It’s been a blast and we’re turning Taos into a college town. One student at a time! http://taos.unm.edu/home/dma/
BB: Our long-standing friendship (with Peter), has been invigorating and galvanizing for both of us since we continue to challenge ourselves in different ways, pushing each other to get better at our craft and trying new creative avenues. The unique backdrop, space and “playground” available to us in our backyard is an ideal focal plane for us to perpetuate our love of nature and being emerged in nature. We regularly take on new adventures whether here in NM or CO, and push ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually while incorporating our love of imagery. Whether shooting traditional still photography, drone photography or Cinematography, we relish the opportunity to reproduce the endless spectacular vistas that surround us each day. Our relationship has continued to develop and our respective personal work experience have been beneficial for both us in our creative journey.
We have been shooting for the last couple of years and will continue through fall 2019 for our feature-length documentary “River Serenade“. It’s been my pleasure to contribute my time in developing the project to shape the right narrative in telling the story, finding the core essence of the primal role that the Rio Grande plays in communities across New Mexico and to bring my technical knowledge to further enhance the production value. Post production has started and our goal is to submit the show to the Telluride Film Festival(end of year). The unique nature of our collaboration (with Peter), the expansion of the partnership between UNM and Canon, and the compelling story of the Rio Grande should make for great storytelling and hopefully will have a positive impact on raising awareness about the ongoing need for the preservation of our environment.
Q)You’ve both been heads down, knee-deep in high water recently – literally and figuratively – can you each talk about these experiences – Blaise you were in the Caribbean helping with Hurricane disasters – Peter you have been filming up and down the Rio Grande Valley – how will these experiences impact the documentary (Rio Grande Serenade), you are working on together?
PW:Currently with our Advanced students we are producing a feature-length documentary called “Rio Grande Serenade” a gravity fed film. I’ve had the pleasure of working with John Biscello and Blaise Basara on this project along with some super creative, talented students. We are hustling to get it finished by January to submit to the Telluride Mountain Film Festival.
BB: In February 2018 after the Maria and Irma hurricanes, I travelled to the Caribbean to help with the relief effort. I found the non-profit Puerto Rico Rises that would coordinate missions on the island to provide first necessities to the communities hit the hardest. Five months after the catastrophe I was extremely surprised to see the poor state of the island. I resided on the west side, in Rincon, but travelled across the island to the east side to provide relief to small communities. Puerto Rico has always struggled with poverty, the aging of its infrastructure, lack of support from current and previous administrations and the growing erratic weather patterns have only deepened the uncertainties of the sustainability of the Puerto Rican people. At the time, these communities had no power or running water. We provided solar lanterns, battery packs to recharge cell phones, clothing, diapers, insulin, water etc… so as to ease the burden on families and local population. Part of my role was to photograph the missions so that Puerto Rico Rises could communicate about the crisis and bring in donations to continue their good work(all of the supplies came from foreign donations and mostly from the US). Here are some of the stills: https://blaisebasara.com/humanitarian-puertorico
After two separate tours in Puerto Rico, I moved on to Guadeloupe, Marie Galante and Cuba.
The relevance with the River Serenade project is fundamentally very simple; we are made of 70% water and the future of our existence on this planet is contingent on having access to fresh water. With the world-wide climate change, temperatures are hotter, the polar caps are melting, waters are rising and the very first nations and communities impacted by this shift are the coastal communities that are already seeing their existing habitable land shrinking. The American southwest has a long history of struggling with inadequate water supplies and desertification, phenomenons which are only getting worse with the gluttonous American overconsumption of this precious resource. The Rio Grande is the backbone of the state of New Mexico and insures the sustenance of our way of life in this part of the world and if we continue to ignore the deep ramifications that our disastrous industrial, economical and environmental policies have had on our home, we will suffer the tragic consequences to our communities and on a much broader sense, humanity as a whole.
Q) What’s next?
PW: I’m still hooked on storytelling and after this film about our culturally rich and diverse watershed..hmm.. maybe a romantic comedy?
BB: I fell in love with Japan when going there for the first time in April 2019 (https://www.blaisebasara.com/japan2019) and I want to continue to explore the myriad of wonders that the Japanese people have to offer. I have always been fascinated with Japanese civilization, just like many of us, but it’s not until you have a first hand experience that you can truly start to grasp the richness and depth of these wonderful people. I want to be able to go back each year for my photography and continue to immerse myself in this utopian way of life which is so soothing on the mind and soul. We have many short comings as a race and are deeply flawed, but somehow while in Japan, you are transported in a realm that has cultivated such sophistication in every facet of society, that you start to realize how primitive are connection and understanding is of humanity and spirituality in Western Europe, North America, or the so-called “Civilized Nations”.
My other goals for these coming years are to continue to produce documentary stories that educate, bringing a deeper awareness and understanding to people on societal topics that impact us all; I want to finally show my photographic work, get better at playing the jazz language and vocabulary that I love so much and continue watching my daughter grow, flourish and achieve her dreams and aspirations.
Thanks gentleman! For more on UNM-Taos Digital Media Arts Program, Peter Walker and Blaise Basara, please visit the sites linked below.
UNM Taos Digital Media Arts (DMA)
Media Instructor / Department Chair
http://blaisebasara.com and Instagram: @blaisebasara
Photographs of Peter Walker and his students, including the capture of students at the recent Canon Workshop, thanks to Peter Walker and UNM-Taos DMA
Photograph of Taos Ski Valley, a Caribbean sunset (because all rivers eventually meet the sea), and Blaise Basara’s headshot, thanks to Blaise Basara