"In the high desert Southwest, where myth and reality intersect, there exists a legendary river, a revered and beloved water-source that goes by the name Rio Grande. It is many things to many people, and has given hope, nurturance and sustenance to many lives, this big-hearted river with a legacy that is both ancient and forever-new.”
The Rio Grande is indeed a big-hearted river and so are the people who live, work and play in its’ waters. The entire river stretches nearly 2,000 miles from the headwaters in Colorado, through New Mexico into Texas forming part of the U.S.-Mexico border before releasing into the Gulf of Mexico. The Rio Grande watershed covers over 180,000 square miles! There have been many great films made about the river including the documentary The River and the Wall, and the animated gem Frontera! Revolt and Rebellion on the Rio Grande.
Inspired by epic tales of high desert life, culture, survival, migration and wildlife, I wanted to make a film that could give voice to a specific place that I know and love. This place is the Upper Rio Grande in Northern New Mexico.
As a media arts instructor for the University of New Mexico-Taos I strive to create opportunities for students to go on adventures, get out of their everyday element and capture images that move them. So, in 2019 we gathered up some gear, loaded students in a van and started filming!
Luckily for us it was a big water year; the roar of the white water mixed well with stories of resilience and courage. Over the course of a year, we gathered story pieces in special locations stretching from Big Arsenic Springs near Questa to the Bosque in Albuquerque.
The Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, White Rock Canyon, and the Wild and Scenic section of the Chama River (and the characters therein) are the soul of Episode One. We begin with a Water Prayer offered by Daniel Herrera, a sixth-generation norteño community leader and advocate for the youth and surrounding watersheds. The story then floats downriver with veteran guides and wilderness advocates as they plunge into rip-roaring whitewater. Topics range from river management to water scarcity and the challenges of living in a high, dry desert.
The custom soundtrack by local musician Ryan Beckwith creates a powerful backdrop to the visuals of the raw and dramatic gorge. We added in poetic storytelling by John Biscello and narration by Robert Mirabal which was edited by Wendy Shuey and made ready for the 2020 film festival circuit.
As with all dramatic beats, the pandemic put a screeching halt to everyone’s travel plans. Now in the spring of 2021 we are instead releasing it as a docuseries starting with Episode One. Future episodes will be released monthly highlighting a variety of characters and stories specific to the Upper Rio Grande Watershed. You can watch it here: www.riograndeserenade.com