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Marfa evolves from supporting actor to leading role

April 20th, 2017 under Arts » Features

By NICK WINCHESTER
nick@bigbendnow.com

 (photo by Annamarie Fernandez) Nika Ezell Pappas (as Jennie Lee) on the Pinto Canyon Road.

(photo by Annamarie Fernandez)
Nika Ezell Pappas (as Jennie Lee) on the Pinto Canyon Road.

MARFA – Marfa draws filmmakers in search of that Old West aesthetic and has done so for decades. Back in the summer of 1955 actors Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Dennis Hopper came to town for “Giant,” taking up residence at the Hotel Paisano. More recently, “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood,” films that won Academy Awards, used Marfa’s surrounding area as their backdrops.

Lately though, the Presidio County seat has transitioned from a location to leading role. “Far Marfa,” the 2013 the critically acclaimed, award-winning independent film by Cory Van Dyke of Marfa, ignited the trend. The film follows main character Carter Frazier as he tries to reclaim lost art, both figuratively and literally, both his own and a stolen piece of modern art he obtains in strange circumstances. Larry Clark’s “Marfa Girl,” which contentiously featured disrobed local high schoolers, pushed the city further into the art-film creative nexus. In “I Love Dick,” Marfa stepped from the background to the forefront after producers swapped the book’s original setting of an East Coast university town and Southern California for Marfa for the TV adaptation.

Music video producers have been quick to jump on the Marfa bandwagon too, both the recent videos for The XX and Tift Merritt feature famous Marfa landmarks, architecture and shop fronts in equal measure to landscape shots.

A lot is said about the vast and significant open space and beauty of the region, so much so that Marfa now holds its own aesthetic value. Annamarie Elaine Fernandez, a New York City-based filmmaker spoke to the Marfa Big Bend Sentinel to explain why she chose Marfa and its surrounds for a recent shoot.

Fernandez said the film, titled “Jennie Lee and the Whirlwind,” is specific to Marfa. “When we conceived of the film’s premise – a road trip film following a band on their final tour – West Texas immediately came to mind,” she said.

“We wanted to capture the uniqueness of the town and its location in the middle of this vast, seemingly endless landscape. And because the film deals with themes of uncertainty and unrest in the midst of change, we were drawn to the landscape’s mysterious, unknown qualities.”

 (photo by Annamarie Fernandez) From left, Javier Ruiz (Assistant Camera), Joshua Troxler (Director), Dillon White (Director of Photography) filming on location at the Tumble Inn, Marfa.

(photo by Annamarie Fernandez)
From left, Javier Ruiz (Assistant Camera), Joshua Troxler (Director), Dillon White (Director of Photography) filming on location at the Tumble Inn, Marfa.

People often cite the natural beauty of Far West Texas as a reason for being visiting and living here. Fernandez said this was very true for her film, which is the capstone to her MFA at Colombia University.

Originally from Dallas, Fernandez said she had wanted to visit the Marfa and Alpine area for a while. Last summer she took a trip out to West Texas with the film’s director, Joshua Troxler. “We were so overwhelmed by how gorgeous the landscape was,” she said. “I moved from Dallas to New York City, so having only really lived in big cities I couldn’t get over how bright the moonlight was at night when you aren’t surrounded by skyscrapers. It’s just so quiet and peaceful, and we both immediately knew this was the perfect setting for the film.”

Fernandez said she was equally overwhelmed by the support she received from the Marfa and Alpine communities. “Because neither of us live or work in Marfa we sought out many conversations with those who do. I started emailing residents and business owners last fall, to better understand the dynamics of the community so we weren’t just coming to town, using it as a backdrop for our film, and heading back to New York City.”

Marfa is a certified Texas Film Commission Film Friendly Community. Fernandez said that the ease she found when gaining information and advice extended from the city itself to a number of people around town. “It was really important to Joshua and I that we got to know people in the community, and we were thrilled with just how open and welcoming the community was to our ideas. Everyone we reached out to, from gallery owners to city managers to local business owners, offered us advice, and if they couldn’t help us they would point us in the direction of someone who could.

“It really was such an encouraging experience and we left feeling more connected to, and inspired by, the community than we ever imagined.”

More information on Fernandez’s film and where to help fundraise it can be found at: https://fromtheheartproductions.givecorps.com/projects/22678-shorts-farewell-columbia-university-mfa-thesis-film

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