The world theater premiere of Cowboys*Indians, the first of many films Ian McCrudden’s Epiphany pictures hopes to produce in Pagosa, will be held at the downtown Liberty Theatre Jan. 3 at 7 p.m.
Written and directed by Ian McCrudden and produced by Henrik Astrom, Cowboys*Indians takes places in the Four Corners region and follows the life of Angel (Maria Johnson), a Paiute woman with a tragic past. Living alone, she works to raise her teenage son, Gas (Kyle Agnew). Full of questions about the past, Gas runs away and is picked up by Twisty (Ian McCrudden), a cowboy and old acquaintance of his mother. Eventually, the relationship that develops between Twisty and Gas leads them both back to Angel and hidden truths about the past are revealed.
Cowboys*Indians is based on one of the first scripts ever written by McCrudden. Written almost 15 years ago, the story and script evolved based on a unique hitchhiking ride.
“I had hitchhiked from Taos to Colorado to see my brother and got picked up by a pretty crazy guy. That’s how the story developed,” said McCrudden.
Almost funded and filmed many times over the past 15 years, the film was ultimately made after McCrudden entered into a business partnership with a financer and distributor interested in producing and premiering films online.
Premiering and offering films online is a newer distribution model in the movie business. Although McCrudden didn’t originally expect to produce a film based on his script this way, a serendipitous search for an actress to play the role of Angel allowed McCrudden to enter into the business partnership with the financer that would ultimately enable the production and distribution of the film.
“I’ve been making independent movies for ten years,” said McCrudden, “and everything is heading toward the internet.”
While searching for an actress to play the controversial and enigmatic character Angel, McCrudden ran into a great deal of resistance from many Native American actresses interested in the part but whom were uncomfortable playing it because of how it represents a Native American woman. Ultimately his search led him to Johnson, an internet entertainer. After she agreed to play the part of Angel, McCrudden changed the beginning of the film to accommodate the reality of how he found Johnson. As such, the film begins with a man looking for a female entertainer online.
After deciding to work with Johnson, McCrudden began to search for ways to finance the film. The changed beginning ultimately led him to seek financing among people interested in internet production and he entered into a business partnership with the Cowboys*Indians financer and distributer under two conditions. First, the movie had to be made for under a quarter million dollars, and second that it premiere and be available for the public to view online free of charge.
“Looking for an actress for the part of Angel actually ended up unlocking the whole way to make the movie,” said McCrudden, “It led to a unique partnership with few creative limitations.”
The film has already premiered on iTunes and will soon be available on Amazon. Online films like Cowboys*Indians generate revenues via ad sales. The new online distribution model helps producers and distributors avoid piracy issues and eliminate barriers to entry into the film business put in place by large studios. Even in the world of independent film, only a select few films made are seen by the public as renowned festival critics “choose” the independent films that are advertised and made available to wider audiences.
Although there is still some uncertainty surrounding how to encourage viewers to seek out and watch films online, the premise of the distribution model says that viewers are interested in watching well told, compelling stories. The hope of McCrudden and his financer is that people will see or hear about the film, watch it online and tell others about it.
The Cowboys*Indians story features characters that represent people in and around the four corners area. Although not really an ethnographic film, McCrudden explained that Cowboys*Indians does explore and display the reality of ethnic tensions in the southwest.
Making this film really brought me back to the heart of independent film making,” said McCrudden, “it was kind of as raw as it gets — coming to Pagosa and making a movie with only 17 people in the middle of winter.”
McCrudden told The SUN that he looks forward to seeing the reaction to the film from Pagosa viewers since he worked hard to make the characters, situations, and setting authentic to this area. Reception of the characters is especially important to McCrudden as Cowboys*Indians tells the story of the type of people that don’t often populate cinema.
Uncertain about the potential success of the film online, McCrudden is very interested in the local reception of the film. He explained that he would like to hear people say that it was a good story and authentic to this place and the people here — a story that resonates with the local audience.
“If this film works, if the distribution model works, it could be really exciting. It’s pretty rare to get to make a movie that someone else pays for and give it away,” said McCrudden.
McCrudden hopes to continue making movies in and around Pagosa and is currently developing a story about avalanche safety. He hopes the film, a hybrid documentary-fiction picture, will become a reality in the near future and hopes to premiere and distribute it on the web.
“I would like to spend even more time in Pagosa,” explained McCrudden, “ but my pursuit of high quality film prevents that.”
Aside from a cast and crew screening, Cowboys*Indians has never been screened to the public. The screening in Pagosa will be free, although donations will be accepted to help fund the upgrade to digital cinema at the Liberty Theatre. Members of the cast and crew will be present and will be at a reception following the premiere. The film is R-rated due to the persistence of adult themes — children under 17 should be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The film will also be available for the public to view online at cowboysindiansfilm.com.