ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the past couple years, New Mexico has felt the love from the Sundance Film Festival. This year is no different.
Sundance has prided itself on presenting the best in film and this year the festival, which kicked off this weekend in Park City, Utah, will have the world premiere of “Drunktown’s Finest.” The film is from writer-director Sydney Freeman, who grew up near Gallup.
The film is part of Sundance’s NEXT category and follows three Gallup locals – an adopted Native American teen living with white parents, a soon-to-be father gearing up for basic training and a transsexual dreaming of becoming a model – as they struggle with life in the community.
The film stars Jeremiah Bitsui, Kiowa Gordon, Shauna Baker, Lora Martinez-Cunningham and Mark Sivertsen. Santa Fe actress Debrianna Mansini landed the role of Phoebe Smiles, who is the adoptive mother to one of the teens.
The cast and crew filmed in both Santa Fe and Gallup last year.
“This film is so powerful and I am happy to be part of it,” Mansini says. “It was a very low-budget film and Sydney was astounding in every aspect of getting the film finished.”
While filming, the movie also caught the eye of Robert Redford, who signed on as an executive director.
“This is the kind of power the film has,” Mansini says. “It got Mr. Redford inspired enough to jump in and sign on.”
Mansini says the entire cast was committed to telling the story, which made for a great environment. She says the majority of the cast was Native American or Hispanic, which added a lot of diversity to the film.
“I felt lucky to be able to be part of such a solid cast,” she says. “The story is really raw and in your face, which I think will make people want to see it more.”
Mansini traveled out to see the premiere, which sold out two screenings this weekend.
“None of us have seen the film and we’re excited to have it premiere at the festival,” she says. “I’m looking forward to see how the viewers react to the film.”
While Mansini is proud of her work in the film, she had to overcome some obstacles in getting cast. She was taking a vacation to Maine when she got the call from her agent to audition for the part.
“I hadn’t seen my sister’s children in years and wasn’t about to cancel it,” she says. “So I was able to get the date changed. Then as I was flying back from Boston, I missed my flight due to an accident that stalled traffic for me to get there. I guess it was something that was meant to be.”
Mansini had a very busy year in film and 2014 has started off well for her. The actress snagged the role of Georgia O’Keeffe in the new film “Awakening in Taos.” The film is being done by PBS. Narrated by Ali MacGraw, “Awakening in Taos” features Marsha Mason as the voice of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Zoe Zimmerman is slated to play the young Dodge Luhan.
“I’ve been able to be in films and play the roles with powerful meaning,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity for me and it all falls in line with what I believe in.”
The Dream Continues: “In Remembrance of Martin” is coming to Albuquerque at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20 and Tuesday, Jan. 21 at The Guild Cinema, 3405 E. Central.
Director Kell Kearns will be on hand to answer questions and share stories about the making of this acclaimed film. He and special guest Harold Bailey, president of the NAACP Albuquerque, will lead a discussion about King’s message today and how individually and collectively we can take steps to further his dream.
Kearns also will talk about his current documentary in production largely filmed in India on the final, most courageous years of Mahatma Gandhi.
The one-hour King film has archival footage that appears nowhere else, as well as more familiar scenes, such as an excerpt from his “I Have A Dream” speech.