Three years ago, while working to save the Gila River, three Silver City teens lost their lives in a tragic plane crash.
Now an Albuquerque filmmaker is joining with the parents of Ella Kirk, Michael Mahl and Ella Myers to make a movie about the “last free-flowing river” in the West in a bid to enshrine the children’s environmentalist legacy and – hopefully – to save the wilderness that was their passion.
Director David Garcia produced a short documentary about the tragedy two years ago, paid for by the parents. The result was a heart-wrenching tale of lives cut short at the moment of their blossoming.
The kids were talented, artistic, and driven to protect the river and the wilderness where they grew up. They were flying in a small plane over the Gila wilderness to log environmental data in May 2014 when the pilot lost control during bad weather and crashed.
But both Garcia and the parents felt the film fell short. There was another, larger story to tell.
“We don’t have a film that shows why the Gila is so special, so unique; a film to show the merits and the beauty,” said Patrice Mutchnick, mother of 14-year-old Ella Kirk, a budding poet and singer-songwriter. “Could we use the children’s lives as an allegory for what is precious?”
Garcia and the parents are trying to raise at least $50,000 to produce a full-length documentary feature to “show the world the value and the beauty of the Gila, hopefully through the eyes of our children,” Mutchnick said.
The group has set up an online account to fund an expedition this spring that would take the filmmaker and his crew down the full 40 miles of Gila River wilderness.
A plan to divert water from the Gila River has been more than a decade in the making and is nearing the crucial environmental assessment stage.
Last summer, the local board in charge of the plans selected two diversion alternatives for study.
New Mexico is entitled to an average 14,000 acre-feet of water per year under the Arizona Water Settlement Act. The settlement allots the state up to $128 million to pursue a project that would partially dam the river and divert water into reservoirs, potentially for use by irrigators in the region.
The two diversion alternatives were estimated to cost $366 million and $336 million, respectively, but opponents of the diversion plans say the estimates leave out hidden costs that could drive the price tag much higher.
Garcia is producer and director of Halflife Digital, an Albuquerque outfit that has provided post-production services for projects including AMC’s television series “Preacher,” the Netflix series “House of Cards” and the feature film “Hell or High Water.”
On the IndieGoGo site, Garcia says that, in “telling the very specific story of the crash and the parent’s grief, larger questions began to arise for me.”
“Could we continue Michael, Ella and Ella’s extraordinary activism and parlay the tragedy of their deaths into something that could continue their work and potentially save the river they loved?” he asked.
“I got inspired by the kids’ lives and work,” he said in a phone interview. “I felt like their voices needed to be preserved and amplified.”
Mutchnick says the goal is to finish the film before the federal government must approve or deny the local board’s diversion plans.
“We believe the Gila, and our children, have a story to tell the country, the world, about a precious jewel that deserves our protection,” she said.