Film shines a light on the importance, history of acequias - Albuquerque Journal

Film shines a light on the importance, history of acequias

“Acequias: The Legacy Lives On,” will premiere at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The film shines a light on the importance of acequias in New Mexico. (Courtesy of Aracely Chapa)

Ten years. This is the time it’s taken Aracely Chapa to complete her latest project.

On Saturday, Jan. 28, “Acequias: The Legacy Lives On,” will premiere at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Chapa began the research in 2013, when she received funding from the state Legislature for a film on acequias.

“This happened at a time when UNM was beginning to reach several anniversary milestones so I put the project aside to produce films commemorating UNM’s history, beginning with ‘Zimmerman@75,’ then ‘UNM@125’ followed by ‘Popejoy@50,’ ” she says. “I finished producing those films in 2015, and soon after resumed the research process for the acequia film.”

Chapa is the manager of Multimedia Services at the University of New Mexico Center for Regional Studies.

Chapa knew taking on the world of acequias would be a challenge because it had to be done right.

Acequias are gravity-fed irrigation ditches that were hand dug centuries ago and still exist today.

She says there were a million different directions to go with the production, though she decided that the acequia story is the story of New Mexico history.

New Mexico has a network of over 700 acequias which helps sustain farms and ranches, as well as homes. (Courtesy of Aracely Chapa)

“When I first learned about them when I moved to New Mexico back in 1997, I was taken aback by their beauty and functionality,” Chapa says. “I honestly could not believe that this was a network of over 700 acequias in New Mexico. I got the idea right away that I wanted to do a film on them at some point. Their existence seemed to me like a storybook fairy tale, but when I learned about the challenges they were facing, the idea of doing a film on acequias left my head and traveled down to my heart. That’s when I knew I was committed I knew I wanted to tell their story and tell it within a historical context.”

Chapa and her team decided to weave the subject into a beautiful tapestry which touches her soul.

“The acequia subject had all the colors of the rainbow and more,” she says. “I literally could have given this documentary the ‘Ken Burns 5-part series’ treatment.”

The film, “Acequias: The Legacy Lives On” has historical context, stunning visuals, passionate speakers, past and future challenges, climate change, water laws, the commodification of water, call to action and much more, Chapa continues.

“I truly believe we all need to reflect a little on how we can all participate in protecting New Mexico’s most precious and unique gift. Some say climate change and development pressures make their extinction inevitable, others believe there’s still time to protect them for future generations,” she says. “I’m getting a little emotional just thinking about how blessed I am to have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people who showed me the beauty of the land and who allowed me to stand in their acequias that to me are the true heroes of the film. It’s safe to say that New Mexico’s beautiful lush valleys and cultural traditions emerged from the acequias.

Aracely Chapa is the driving force behind the film “Acequias: The Legacy Lives On.” (Courtesy of Aracely Chapa)

With the film set to premiere at the NHCC, Chapa does have a lot of hopes and takeaway for the film.

“I hope people will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for New Mexico’s acequias,” she says. “The challenges they face, including climate change, are enormous. Advocates work tirelessly to affect policy changes that will protect them for future generations, but they shouldn’t be working alone, farmers shouldn’t be working alone and struggling so hard to hold on to what they have. We all want farmer’s markets with locally grown fruits and vegetables. We all want beautiful landscapes. We should all try to buy locally grown food when we can and advocate for the protection of our iconic acequias. And I think showing them in a new light may deepen our understanding.”

William deBuys, writer and conservationist, is interviewed by Aracely Chapa at the Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary in 2017. (Courtesy of Paloma Chapa)

Chapa says acequias are unique to New Mexico, as no other state in the country has what we have.

“We tend to take things for granted that we’ve seen all our lives, but the acequia system, should not be one of those things,” she says. “Acequias may be 300 to 400 years old but they’re not museum pieces, they serve a real purpose. They are symbols of sustainability.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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