Friday, October 22, 2010

[MISP] Santa Fe stars as backdrop in classic novel-turned-film 'Bless Me, Ultima'

Santa Fe stars as backdrop in classic
novel-turned-film 'Bless Me, Ultima'

Robert Nott | The New Mexican
Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2010
- 10/22/10


Sarah DiLeo is aware that she and her production crew are tackling a film in which the story is the star.

And it's a story beloved not only by New Mexicans, but anyone who has read the bittersweet saga of Antonio and Ultima in Rudolfo Anaya's classic 1970s novel Bless Me, Ultima.

DiLeo and her team are filming a screen adaptation of the novel in and around Santa Fe. The movie, directed and scripted by Carl Franklin, is a faithful adaptation, according to DiLeo.

"The challenge is not to be literal," she said during a break in shooting while the crew was filming at the old Manderfield Elementary School on Canyon Road. "The challenge is to capture the essence of the novel and distill it in a different medium."

DiLeo obtained the rights from Anaya about six years ago after talking him into the deal while he was vacationing in Mexico. Philanthropist Christy Walton turned DiLeo on to the book and agreed to finance the project (Walton is listed as executive producer; the other producers are Mark Johnson and Jesse B'Franklin).

The film is slated to shoot in New Mexico until early December. DiLeo expects a final cut to be ready by next summer.

Though Franklin is a name director — among his credits are the tough-as-nails crime drama One False Move and the Denzel Washington noir film Devil In a Blue Dress, as well as episodes of the television series Rome and The Pacific — the production features a number of no-name newcomers, including 9-year-old Luke Ganalon as Antonio.

Ganalon was one of about 55 youngsters repeatedly running through a scene at Manderfield that captures the chaos of the first day of school.

In what he claimed was his first-ever interview with the media, Ganalon said he just began auditioning for acting work last spring. His only credits of note are two commercials: one for Chips Ahoy ("I was dancing in that one," he said), and one for Nickelodeon Resorts by Marriot ("You can hardly notice me in that one.").

"To me, Antonio is kind of more shy than me and he questions his own culture," Ganalon said while still clad in a pair of blue overalls that suggested rural 1940s New Mexico. He said Antonio's relationship to his curandera friend Ultima is "very close. Ultima knows he has the power to heal but I don't think I knew I had it in me."

Veteran actress Miriam Colón, who plays Ultima, praised her younger co-star as having a voracious appetite for knowledge. One crew member said of Ganalon, "He'll be directing by the time he's 12," and indeed, the boy confirmed he's working out a storyboard for his first movie, The New Brothers of War.

Colón, a native of Puerto Rico who lives in New York City, said she hadn't read Anaya's book before she auditioned for the role. Upon reading it, she said of Franklin's script, "He has managed to preserve the meaning of the characters; the essence of the story is all there.

"I am not an expert in literature, but the way the author describes these people — people of the earth, people who are struggling, people trying to live their lives and encountering situations and relationships that cause a lot of tension — you realize they are flawed people, but you care about them."

Ultima, she said, "Is a wise, wise woman. And she's fearless."

According to DiLeo, Anaya has been an adviser on the script. He has yet to visit the set, but she's hoping to convince him to play a cameo role if he does show up.

"There is a universality to this coming-of-age story," she said. "Antonio's loss of innocence, his attachment to this older person, his acceptance of loss — everyone understands that.

"Everyone I encounter who has read the book — even if they read it 20 years ago in high school — has a high excitement for the project. It's a story that stands out for people."

The film will shoot in the Abiquiú area for a few days, and then return to Santa Fe for some interiors at Garson Studios on the Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus. DiLeo said the company is taking advantage of New Mexico's film incentive program. About 140 New Mexicans are working on the film as either crew members or performers — including all the children who were working as extras at Manderfield this week.

"Who would have thought," DiLeo said, as she noted the children lining up by the costume room at the end of the shoot, "So many pairs of little boys' overalls existed?"





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