'Ultima' To Get Festival Screening

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New Mexicans rejoice. The film adaptation of Rudolfo Anaya's "Bless Me, Ultima" will be screened in New Mexico on Oct. 17 — and it's thanks to the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival.

The Santa Fe screening at Warehouse 21 will kick off the fourth year of the film festival and comes exactly one month after the world premiere of the film in El Paso. The festival runs Oct. 17-21 at four locations in Santa Fe.

"This movie and book is really great and special to New Mexicans," said Jacques Paisner, film festival executive director. "It's a book that is representative of New Mexico and I've met Rudy Anaya and it's a great way to open up the festival. This is one of the biggest films that we've gotten to open the festival and it's a big deal."

Many New Mexicans were angered that "Bless Me, Ultima" was to premiere at the historic Plaza Theatre in El Paso instead of the Land of Enchantment — where it was filmed entirely.

Santiago Pozo, the founder and chief executive officer of Arenas Entertainment, said El Paso had the right demographics, energy and passion for the film.

Arenas Entertainment is marketing the film and Pozo is regarded as one of the authorities on entertainment and film marketing to U.S. Latino audiences.

"We wanted to premiere the film in a nonbiased area," Pozo said from Los Angeles. "For New Mexicans, the story is close to them. We knew that there would be a screening in New Mexico, we just wanted to premiere it in El Paso because it's rich in Chicano history, culture and art."

"Bless Me, Ultima" is set in the small town of Guadalupe, N.M., during World War II. The novel follows the story of Antonio Márez, who has a curandera named Ultima come live with his family when he was 6. The main plot line involves Ultima's struggle to stop the witchcraft of the three daughters of Tenorio Trementina, the main villain. Antonio, who witnesses several deaths, is forced to deal with religious and moral issues.

"Bless Me, Ultima" is an award-winning classic; however, it has been controversial and has been banned in school curricula and public libraries, as recently as this year in Arizona.

Paisner said the lineup for the film festival is locked in and will feature about 80 films over the course of five days.

"We've been working year-round on getting the festival worked out," he said. "We had been in contact with producers for nearly a month about getting the film here. It was important for us to try and get the film."

The movie was directed by Carl Franklin at Greer Garson Studios on the campus of Santa Fe University of Art & Design in 2010. Franklin also was at the helm of the Denzel Washington movie "Devil in a Blue Dress."

"Bless Me, Ultima" was filmed at Ruby Ranch in Las Vegas, N.M.; Pecos River Ranch in Rowe; Abiquíu; Garson Studios; and the old Manderfield School in Santa Fe. The production employed 150 New Mexicans during its nearly three-month shooting schedule.

At the October screening, Paisner said the opening night party will be held at Zia Diner with a special menu created by local restaurateur Beth Koch based on recipes from "Bless Me, Ultima."

He said the book is beloved by so many and goes along with the mission of the festival.

"We not only show great films," he said, "but we also focus on showing that New Mexico is the best place to watch and make films."

Two other New Mexico-made movies will premiere at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Oct. 20-21.

"Blaze You Out" is a project from local filmmakers Mateo Frazier and Diego Joaquín López who wrote the movie that dives head-first into the drug culture.

"Tiger Eyes" is based on the 1981 Judy Blume novel. It follows Davey Wexler, played by Willa Holland, who is struggling to deal with the murder of her father. She and her mother move with extended family to Los Alamos to start anew. Davey falls for Wolf, played by Rio Rancho resident Tatanka Means, who helps her cope with the death. The movie was filmed in Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque and is directed by Blume's son, Lawrence.