"Even when it's bad, it's good." That's how Molly Manzanares summarizes the work of being a sheepherder with her husband, Antonio. Together they make up one of the last traditional sheepherding outfits in New Mexico at their home in Tierra Amarilla, where they founded Tierra Wools. Documentarian Scott Andrews filmed the duo, their crew, and the stars of it all (the bleating sheep) over the seasons. The film is one of growing collection of similarly crafted short documentaries in Andrews' The Wisdom Archive (thewisdomarchive.com), which focuses on "living, practicing masters," including a mescalero, a santero, and a colchera, to name only a few. Andrews attended the Anthropology Film Center in Santa Fe from 1978-1981, produced documentaries for BBC and PBS and, since 2013, has struck out on his own. He screens Antonio and Molly Manzanares: The Last Shepherds, Edgar Gonzalez: Mezcalero!, and Recuerdo (7, 7:15 and 7:40 pm Thursday Oct. 12. $9-$12. Violet Crown Cinema, 1606 Alcaldesa St., 216-5678).
What was the process of putting together The Last Shepherds?
I had been searching far and wide for subjects for a film about traditional agriculture. At the Santa Fe Farmers Market I met Antonio and Molly, and asked if I could film their cycle of sheep ranching for a year, with the end product being a film that would preserve and celebrate their disappearing way of life. They agreed, and filled me in on the important times of year to film, starting with breeding in December, winter feeding in February, shearing in April, lambing in May, trailing the sheep up to the high country in June, summer in the Sierra, and then trailing the sheep back to Los Ojos in October. The first shoot was in August of 2015, as Antonio visited his sheepherder Mingo and the flock up in the Sierra above Canjilon. The last shoot was an interview in September of 2016 about the future for Antonio and Molly, their family and traditional sheep ranching. Five months of editing began in February of 2017.
What does being an 'outsider' mean, and how do you think about the ethics of being a filmmaker?
Anyone making a film about people they don't know is to some degree an outsider, and so the first and most important step for any documentarian is to establish and maintain trust. Borrowing trust, via a referral to a potential film subject by a trusted friend or family member, can be very helpful. The first film I made for The Wisdom Archive was about Monica Sosaya, the 'Grand Dame' of Spanish Market, and the aunt of my next door neighbor when I moved to Santa Fe. When searching for a traditional wool dyer, Monica referred me to Rita Padilla Haufmann, and when looking for a churro sheep rancher, Rita suggested I speak with Antonio and Molly. Each is now a link in what I hope will be a chain of trust in me and The Wisdom Archive. Secondly, its important to me that the film benefit the film subjects, and that they be open to sharing their knowledge. Thirdly, I want my film subjects to be happy with the final product. The cultural masters I film speak for themselves. I do not narrate or editorialize and I do not take the stance of investigative journalism where the subject has no say in how they are portrayed. Before I show a film online or in a theater, the subject sees the film and gives me their feedback. Any inaccuracies I correct, any worries we discuss and adjust as we see fit.
Where did the idea for The Wisdom Archive come from, and where do you foresee the project in the future?
I have felt for a long time that the loss of cultural diversity is at least as great a tragedy as the loss of biodiversity. Modern science has created seed banks and gene banks to conserve some of this disappearing diversity from the physical world, and we needed something similar to preserve and celebrate cultural diversity. With the advent of YouTube, a universally accessible 'video seed bank' for disappearing culture, or Wisdom Archive, became possible. Anyone anywhere in the world can now see and learn from people all over the earth at any time. The eight films now viewable on our website are just an example—a sprouting seed of what is possible. We will continue to work on such films here in Northern New Mexico, but every day cultural masters in other parts of the world are passing, often leaving no apprentices or records of their knowledge and skill. To film with as many remaining as possible, we are now fundraising for a new initiative that will train and recruit young filmmaking partners around New Mexico and the world: A YouTube-based international filmmaking competition, driven by a simple how-to video that shows how to produce for The Wisdom Archive. Winners and their films will be featured on The Wisdom Archive, and earn $250 or a used iPhone or iPad to continue with their work.