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NM stands in for Greece in classic epic melodrama

Yia Yia, played by Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone and Christina, played by Tania Raymonde. on the set of “Cliffs of Freedom,” which filmed in northern New Mexico in late 2016. (Aegean Entertainment/Lewis Jacobs)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Van Ling never stops learning.

The film veteran has a 30-plus year career working in visual effects on such films as “Titanic,” “Starship Troopers,” “Milk” and TV’s “The Walking Dead.”

Yet, when he took the reins on “Cliffs of Freedom,” it was something new. The move marked the first time he was not only directing, but also a co-writer of the film.

“It was an education,” he said. “I’ve never been the full-on director and we were aiming high with this one. It’s a classic Hollywood epic melodrama. Everything was deliberate.”

Getting “Cliffs of Freedom” in theaters has been quite the journey.

The film began production in October 2016 and filmed for about two months in northern New Mexico. It will begin playing at AMC 12 in Albuquerque’s South Valley today.

“Cliffs of Freedom” follows the ill-fated romance between a Greek village girl and a conflicted Turkish officer during the dawn of the Greek War for Independence against the Ottoman Empire in 1821.

Young Anna Christina is smitten by Colonel Tariq, a rising star in the Turkish army with growing doubts about his countrymen’s brutal methods. He had once spared her life on a cliff top when she was a child, but their budding romance brings tragedy to her family and her village.

Swearing revenge against the Turks, Christina joins the Greek rebellion and faces off against the man who still loves her and wants to keep her safe. Their encounters and skirmishes inevitably lead to a tragic confrontation on the cliffs high above a pivotal battle between the Greeks and Turks.

“It blends ageless themes of hope, love and sacrifice with a timely narrative about one woman’s struggle to overcome oppression and shape her own destiny,” Ling said.

The film stars Tania Raymonde, Jan Uddin, Raza Jaffrey, Patti Lupone and Christopher Plummer.

Christina, played by Tania Raymonde and Tariq, played by Jan Uddin weigh their options in a scene from “Cliffs of Freedom.” The production used the old turquoise mine for its cave scenes. (Aegean Entertainment/Lewis Jacobs)

Ling says one of the challenges was getting northern New Mexico to look like Greece.

And time was against them.

“We got the green light for the film in August 2016 and the film needed to be done by the end of the year,” he said. “Going to Greece would have required a whole lot more logistics. New Mexico became our best bet. We were able to transform the area. To top that off, we had some amazing incentives, which helped us up the visual effects.”

Pre-production took six weeks to complete and Santa Fe became home base for the film.

According to the film office, the production employed more than 200 New Mexico crew members and about 800 New Mexico background talent.

Ling and his crew transformed the St. Catherine Indian School property into a palace.

“We shot all of the village exteriors and palace on the campus of the school,” he says. “We built the Turkish palace courtyard in the middle of the baseball field. Interior shots were filmed in the school’s buildings.”

As far as the exterior and battle scenes go, Ling looked farther north to the Puye Cliff Dwellings near Española for some rebel camp scenes.

Filming also took place on Zia Pueblo.

The crew shot the film’s battle scenes at Bonanza Creek Ranch.

“The next property over is the old turquoise mine, where we used the area for all of the cave scenes,” he said. “Our biggest challenge turned out to be that we had great locations, but were shooting in the wrong season. At that point, no one had tried to shoot (a production) in New Mexico that wasn’t a Western or a border drug story. Ours was an epic melodrama and I believe it will resonate with audiences.”

Director Van Ling and Oscar winner Christopher Plummer as Thanasi on “Cliffs of Freedom.” (Aegean Entertainment/Lewis Jacobs)

Ottoman Colonel Tariq, played by Jan Uddin and Janissary Captain Sunal, played by Raza Jaffrey arrive in Valtetsi village in “Cliffs of Freedom. ” The villages were constructed at St. Catherine Indian School and Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe. (Aegean Entertainment/Lewis Jacobs)