Arizona-based sculptural artist Bonnie Brooks foraged for flowers and used found items to give the first annual Pioneertown International Film Festival a classic Western feel with a modern, natural twist.
“I work with dried plants and flowers, so that was an element in all of the design,” Brooks told MovieMaker. “We just created little spaces and made it feel cozy.”
As the festival’s designer, Brooks was in charge of all the decorations, signs, table arrangements, and seating areas that adorned the three-day Western-themed film festival that took place from May 27-29 in Pioneertown, California. Brooks wanted the festival’s design to echo the silent role that the desert landscape plays in Western films.
“The landscapes are a part of what makes it a Western,” she said. “The flowers and all the plant life that survive and lives out here are part of the stories.”
But rather than sourcing expensive cut flowers, Brooks chose instead to forage for all of the flowers and foliage she used to decorate the festival’s various spaces. Areas of Pioneertown that were part of the festival include the Soundstage, where many feature films were screened and where concerts were held in the evenings, including The Dandy Warhols; the Super X venue where all of the short films were shown; the festival’s welcome center at Desert Willow Ranch, and the seating areas and outdoor bars where guests could meet and mingle between screenings.
“I don’t believe in cutting living things,” she said. “So all of the floral arrangements, I went up and foraged myself, and I only take dead plants.”
She also repurposed existing pieces that were already on sight, including some white curtains from the Soundstage, a Western movie backdrop from Super X, and some bales of hay and Mexican blankets she borrowed from a friend. She even repurposed an animal skull that her mother found in the desert in the 1970s as a decoration to hang inside the Soundstage.
Since the festival was originally set to take place in 2020 and was postponed twice, Brooks’ designs have been a three-year labor of love.
“We were set to do this festival last August, but then the Delta variant [came] and we had to postpone,” she said. “Now that we’re doing it in the spring, everything’s blooming, so I had to go to all the underbrush of the plants. It involved a lot of driving and looking, trying to spot dead plants.”
Plus, by collecting dead flowers and brush, she’s actually leaving the landscape better than she found it.
“By clearing this stuff from the land, it actually helps with fire prevention,” she said. “We have just truckloads of branches and like we have a bunch of burned oak trees from the fires that happened.”
Above all, she wanted her designs to enhance festival goers’ experience by “keeping the environment inspiring.”
“It’s important that people feel comfortable,” she said. “When you’re watching a bunch of films, you’re having a lot of ideas, and having other things around that are stimulating and inspiring is important,” she said. “Just creating kind of a seamless flow between what they’re seeing on film and the environment of the festival — it just creates kind of a full-circle experience.”
Though this was Brooks’ first time ever designing spaces for a film festival, it won’t be her last — she plans to come back next year.
“I’m really proud,” she said of the inaugural festival. “It’s just a bunch of buddies who got together, and I’m like, Oh my god, we did it.”
Main Image: Bonnie Brooks holding one of her designs. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Brooks.