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Into the future: Documentary ‘Truth or Consequences’ weaves past, present with what may lie ahead

Philip is one of the Truth or Consequences residents featured in the documentary film “Truth or Consequences.” (Courtesy of Hannah Jayanti)

New Mexico has made an impression on Hannah Jayanti.

She was educated at St. John’s College in Santa Fe.

Spent a couple of summers building Earthships near Taos.

It’s no wonder the gravitational pull was so strong it brought the filmmaker back to New Mexico to film – specifically in Truth or Consequences, for an artist residency.

“I felt New Mexico was my spiritual home,” she says. “When I got the residency in TorC, it was for six weeks, and I began to film every single day.”

Jayanti’s “Truth or Consequences” will be screened as part of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival beginning Wednesday, Oct. 14.

The speculative documentary is about how we weave the past into the present and our possible future.

Hannah Jayanti worked solo on creating the documentary “Truth or Consequences.”

Set in the small desert city, the film takes place in the shadow of the world’s first commercial spaceport. Subtly set in a near future when space travel has begun, the film follows five residents in the town.

Combining documentary cinema, archival footage, experimental virtual reality worlds and an improvised score by Bill Frisell, “Truth or Consequences” is a lyrical meditation on progress, history, and how we navigate a sense of loss within ourselves and a changing world.

In 1950, celebrity television show host Ralph Edwards put out a national challenge for a town to rename itself after his game show. The little town of Hot Springs won, and it became Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Seventy years later, TorC is the closest town to the world’s first commercial spaceport. Funded and maintained by tax dollars, Spaceport America has cost $220 million to date. It’s rented out to private companies such as Virgin Galactic, which has sold tickets for individual spaceflights for $250,000.

Jayanti says the Spaceport and private companies promise a burgeoning commercial industry that will democratize space and transform the way we live. Alongside the rhetoric is a fear that Earth is dying, and for humanity to survive we have to move elsewhere.

In a practice we’re calling speculative documentary, we take the present-day potential of commercial space travel and subtly posit that it has already happened, she says.

“I had two main intentions going into the projects,” she says. “One is that you can actually listen to the people and places. And the other one is to make a documentary film that wasn’t constrained by the narrative connection.”

Olin is one of the Truth or Consequences residents featured in the documentary “Truth or Consequences.” (Courtesy of Hannah Jayanti)

In the film, Jayanti tells the stories of five TorC residents – Yvonne, George, Katie, Olin and Philip.

It took five years to complete the film – three for filming and two for editing.

“Because I shot it all by myself, directed and edited, it took a long time to edit,” she says. “I really believe in taking a long time with things. I learned that working and making a documentary about people is a big responsibility. They have chosen to share their world with you. The film doesn’t make any pretense of telling the story of the town. It’s focused on the five people, and it avoids to be a documentation of the town.”

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