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Santa Fe-raised filmmakers win festival awards for short film

May 14, 2019

As adolescents, Antonio Márquez, Max Dickter and Jordan Hoffman experimented with ways to tell a chase story on film.

Running through a Santa Fe junk yard after hours, the three 11-year-olds used a hand-held digital video camera to make short movies, creating stories about people on the run, whether it was in pursuit of gangsters or in a spirited game of tag.

Fifteen or so years later, the trio, now working together as professional filmmakers, are celebrating their fourth festival award for their short Alivestock, a gripping and gritty tale of a spirited Mexican woman held captive by some cowboys in a human-trafficking plot that she has no intention of going along with.

She’s the kind of on-screen character who can work miracles with a switchblade, even if she’s surrounded by a cadre of armed gunmen.

Last weekend, the film was named Best Drama at the New Mexico Filmmakers Showcase in Santa Fe. Before that it earned Best Latin Film at the Santa Fe Film Festival, Best New Mexico Production at the ABQ Indie Film Festival and the Jury of Peers Award at the Los Angeles Crime and Horror Film Festival.

And now the trio of filmmakers is off and running on another short film, a coming-of-age story about a Chicano youth growing up in a beautiful and violent modern ranching world. In addition, they’ve started a production company, aptly named Junk Yard Nights after their adolescent shenanigans.

These cinematic tales, as well as two other professional film shorts they have made, have grown out of roots planted in their childhood and teen years, when all three encountered gang members, modern-day cowboys and grifter types while growing up in Santa Fe and — for Marquez — the ranching world of Colorado, where he lived and worked part-time.

“When you run away together from guys with guns, you build trust,” said Hoffman, who co-produces and films the shorts. He was referring to teen get-togethers involving bonfires and gang members who sometimes did not cause trouble but sometimes did.

Hoffman recalled wanting to always hold a video camera, crafting his way as a cinematographer. Márquez, director and writer of the projects, began taking on those roles at an early age. Dickter, another co-producer of Alivestock, would act out scenarios as the three worked them out, playing different characters and showing how possible stunts could work by “jumping off of objects,” Márquez recalled. Dickter plays one of the bad guys in Alivestock.

The childhood bonding has helped them develop a not-always-easy trust, one where collaborative creativity dominates despite the occasional butting of heads and egos. Dickter travels between San Diego and London for work, Hoffman is headquartered in New York City and Márquez still alternates between New Mexico and Colorado for work and play. Part of that work includes cowboying, and about three weeks ago Márquez broke his right leg after being thrown by a horse in Colorado.

The production team shot Alivestock on Márquez’s family ranch over the course of four days in February of this year. Márquez hired two real-life cowboys to play a pair of villainous brothers who want to sell the Mexican woman into sex slavery.

Márquez calls the group’s work “neo-Southwestern… new-noir… new-Western,” and said mixing the genres together is “fun.” The stories they tell, he said, reflect the dark underbelly of the modern West, with its land, water, migration and gun issues.

They’ll film their next short in the autumn. Meanwhile, they’re looking to find a way to develop Alivestock into a feature, not necessarily using the footage they shot, but the characters, ideas and themes. While short films work well as stand-alone stories and can be woven into an episodic string of shorts, a feature film is the logical “aim big” next-step in their growth as filmmakers, Márquez said.

“The appeal of a feature is that you have room to tell the full hero’s journey,” he said.

Working on a movie in New Mexico, which is continually trying to attract film productions through incentives, makes perfect sense for them, given their long history with the region.

Hoffman, who regularly gets hired as a director of cinematography in New York, said the connection to his two friends makes the idea even more appealing.

“To work with people you like and respect, who encourage you to be better and who you can encourage to be better, is something that you can’t find everywhere,” he said. “That’s why we like working here.”