She traveled the world in a way few people did in the earliest years of the 20th century, and her salons in New York’s Greenwich Village and Venice, Italy, attracted some of the greatest artists and writers of her era; but when it came time to find a real home, Mabel Dodge Luhan chose Taos, New Mexico.
A new documentary film, “Awakening in Taos,” gives us an unprecedented glimpse into her life here, her 40-year marriage to Taos Pueblo’s Tony Luhan, and the many luminaries — including D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe — who made the then-arduous journey to come and visit the couple’s Taos home.
There will be a free showing of three of the documentary’s seven episodes today (May 14), 7 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Production is still in progress, with final scenes expected to be completed here in June and July.
Before the screening, there will be drumming and singing by Blue Spruce Standing Deer, a grandson of Tony Luhan. The film’s writer and director, Mark Gordon, will be on hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.
Gordon first came to New Mexico decades ago as an art student interested in making movies, but says he found that the Santa Fe film scene at that point was primarily “Wild West, with or without aliens.”
“With a few exceptions, like Robert Redford’s film of ‘Milagro Beanfield War,’ the filmmakers were using the New Mexico landscape to represent Wyoming or Colorado, rather than telling stories about people who actually lived in New Mexico, about the cultures or the artists here,” Gordon recalled.
Ten years ago, on a visit to Taos, a docent at the Taos Art Museum suggested that he read some of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s writings. “That conversation changed my life,” said Gordon. “It led to my moving to New Mexico full time, and was the beginning of my passion for making this film.”
He brought co-producers Katie Peters and Pat Hall to spend a three-day weekend at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and they began interviewing people with first-hand stories to tell.
Gordon shared an anecdote he uncovered in his research that illustrates Luhan’s drive, connections, and spirit. During World War II, the phone lines in Taos, as in most rural areas, were party lines. Luhan called the phone company’s national office to request a private line. The woman who took the call (whose grandson was among those interviewed by Gordon for the film) informed her that there was a war going on, and she would have to wait. Luhan responded, “Just tell Delano that Mabel needs her own line!” Delano, of course, was President Franklin Roosevelt, and Luhan had a private phone line within the week.
The film will show Luhan using her influence and connections for far greater goals than personal convenience: As a patron of the arts, an activist for women’s rights, and in collaborating with Tony Luhan to lobby the U.S. government for the return of Native lands.
The film is being produced in partnership with New Mexico Public Broadcasting Service’s executive producer Michael Kamins, whose documentary “Painting Taos,” about the Taos Society of Artists, was released in 2009.
Tonight’s screening is free, but donations are welcome and vitally needed for the completion of the film. PBS will distribute the film, but is not funding it.
“Our ability to do this at all is thanks to great generosity,” said Gordon. “The Healy Foundation in Taos has been a huge supporter and we’re so grateful to them, and the other individuals and businesses who have contributed.”
According to an April 26 taosnews.com post, “Awakening in Taos” was among recipients of 2015 Taos County Lodger’s Tax funds. The project reportedly has been in development since around 2005.
Gordon calls the film a “love letter to Taos,” and hopes that business owners will come to the event and consider investing in the film as an investment in Taos. He cites the precedent of Kamins’ “Painting Taos,” which has been shown over 400 times on PBS stations nationwide, a potential audience of 122 million people, and says he anticipates even greater numbers for “Awakening in Taos.”
“I think it can benefit tourism in Santa Fe and Taos, not only in increased numbers of visitors but in more informed visitors, people who are inspired by the richness of the history, and come here already excited about seeing these cultural sites for themselves.” The film’s crew are all local talent, and the film company itself, Awakening in Taos LLC, is based in Santa Fe and dedicated to making films in New Mexico, about people who live here or have lived here in the past.
The company hopes to follow up the documentary with a five-part dramatized film for TV about the Luhans and their circle, to be filmed entirely in Taos and Santa Fe.