Before 2007 it was a little-known cultural haven in Southwestern Texas. Now the town that hosted the productions of two Best Picture Oscar nominees is gaining momentum as a prime moviemaking location. “This area boasts some of the most spectacular views in the country,” explains Robin Lambaria, founder of the newly established Marfa Film Festival. “I think when people come here they really feel the power of the land, which transcends beautifully on film.”
Just 60 miles from the Mexican border, Marfa, Texas was originally established by the Spanish in the mid-1500s. For years following, battles over the land were fought often between its overseas settlers and the area’s Native American population. By the mid-1800s the U.S. government set up Fort Davis, railroad engineers laid track and silver mining commenced. The otherwise flat expanse was becoming a burgeoning little town.
Further government involvement in the area left a hole when, after World War II, a local fort and property were sold. By the 1970s however, sculptor Donald Judd purchased much of that land and established an arts community that still thrives today.
“Marfa is considered an ‘art mecca’ because people come here from all over the world for the galleries and world-class art,” Lambaria says. “It’s really interesting living here. At times it feels like you’re actually part of some kind of large-scale installation.” When both No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood set up shop in the area, it literally became that installation.
“We couldn’t find the scope we were looking for in California because there’s usually a Burger King in one direction and a freeway in the other,” explains There Will Be Blood producer JoAnne Sellar. Plus, the West Texas locals helped flesh out the story onscreen. “Without exaggerating, I believe that a film lives and dies by its extras,” notes Academy Award-nominated writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. “The locals in the film have that West Texas flavor that can only come from living in that place, and they were all so generous with their time and humanity. I’m so proud of the work they did. You can have a great actor like Daniel Day-Lewis, but if the person who is standing behind him is all wrong and a distraction, you’re dead.”
For No Country for Old Men, “the setting is so integral to the book, to the story—it’s about where it takes place as much as anything else,” explains Ethan Coen, one-half of the movie’s writing-directing team. “It is a very beautiful landscape, but in a bleak rather than picturesque way. It’s not an easy place to live in, and that’s important to what the story is about—the human confrontation with this harsh environment.”
“The setting is actually part of the reason that we wanted to do this film,” Coen adds. “We’d done our first movie (Blood Simple) in Texas, although that was in Austin, but we’d also traveled through West Texas, and were attracted to it even before we read the book.”
Funnily enough, despite its creative attraction and participation in two of this year’s Academy Award-nominated Best Picture features, “the closest art house theater is nearly 500 miles away. Some of the kids here have never even seen an independent or classic film,” says Lambaria. That’s why Marfa is a great place for moviemaking (no pretensions in this small town) and a brand new festival.
Taking place May 1-5, 2008 the festival, like the productions the town recently hosted, will provide moviemakers and movie-lovers an opportunity to go “off-the-beaten path and experience great cinema and amazing landscapes in a non-competitive, very low-key environment where celebrity means nothing.”