De ... ¡COLORES!
KNME’s long-running documentary series
KNME’s long-running documentary series
Variety is the spice of life, which could be the motto of KNME Television’s weekly series ¡COLORES! The show’s central focus is art — painting, sculpture, film, dance, theater, photography, fiction and nonfiction writing, digital arts, and poetry — but it also features stories more generally about culture and history. Each episode usually has multiple profiles packed into a half-hour. On April 2, the program featured profiles of Chiricahua Apache artist and educator Allan Houser (1914-1994), composer Danny Elfman, video artist Cat Del Buono’s study of New York subway riders, and personal stories about film icon Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) by his granddaughter, Cecilia DeMille Presley.
On April 16, Santa Fe musician David Berkeley, who wrote an album of songs about intersecting characters taken from a companion book, The Free Brontosaurus, discussed the ways that stories can connect people. The show also profiled Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) and his cinematic approach to painting; a pair of plays about the feelings that arise as we face mortality, presented by the Redhouse Theater of Syracuse, New York; and woodworker Dennis DeVendra, whose work with power tools is especially dangerous because he is blind. But then, on April 24, the entire show was a profile of SITE Santa Fe. Hakim Bellamy, Albuquerque’s first poet laureate, conducted on-screen interviews with the contemporary art space’s Irene Hofmann and Joanne Lefrak and artist Dario Robleto. “For that one, Hakim was asking the questions and kind of prompting the conversation, but if I’m doing the interview, I’m off-camera,” said ¡COLORES! producer/director Tara Walch. “I just like the documentary style, where the artist tells the story of the work.”
Other recent segments focused on Jessica Helen Lopez, Albuquerque’s current poet laureate, and writer Denise Chávez of Las Cruces. “Jessica Lopez had a wonderful piece. She performed,” Walch said during Pasatiempo’s visit to the KNME studios. “She’s a slam poet, and we created a performance space for her. And Denise Chávez is a Chicano author, very proud and very amazing and outspoken and hilarious.”
¡COLORES! originated in 1989. That’s a lot of episodes, and many are available on the show’s website. One of the excellent installments there is a 1996 portrait of Katherine Stinson Otero, a pilot who was a pioneering stunt flyer in the 1910s and then moved to Santa Fe, taking up a second career as an architect and homebuilder. Also in the archives are programs on Lincoln cowboy painter Gary Morton, photographic historian Beaumont Newhall (1908-1993), Santa Clara painter Pablita Velarde (1918-2006), the state’s historic highway bridges, Hispanic artists Eliseo Rodriguez, Abad E. Lucero, and Ernesto Martinez,
and more than 80 other video profiles — all viewable at www.newmexicopbs.org.
“For the last three years, we’ve been part of the Major Market Group, which is a PBS consortium of stations that share content,” said Michael Kamins, the show’s executive producer. “They’ve got this great Andy Warhol piece and they throw it into the bin, and we take ours and throw them into the bin, and we share. The shows are also shared through the U.S. Information Service, so they’re seen in embassies around the world.”
How do they scout out material? “We’re working on a pretty quick schedule, because we do a show every week, so I’m doing a lot of telephone work,” Walch said. “I try to do a pre-interview to get to know people and understand their motivations a little bit, because we try to tell a story of creation and a story of how they’re inspired — that New Mexico art spirit. For one show coming up, we’re talking with Taos artist Sasha vom Dorp, who works with audio and light reflections.”
“The tagline for the show is ‘Focusing on the creative spirit.’ That’s been the bottom line since the beginning,” Kamins added. “Our very first ¡COLORES! was with experimental film director Godfrey Reggio, talking about what motivated and inspired his films. We found that that approach provides for a great story to tell, because we’re still storytellers, ultimately.”
The May 7 program was a history piece on photographer Jesse Nusbaum (1887-1975) and the development of the Spanish-Pueblo Revival architectural style in Santa Fe; the guest presenter was Khristaan D. Villela, professor of art history and scholar in residence at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Also in that halfhour were segments on repairing the organs of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and on glassblower Mark Sudduth and blacksmith John King.
“Over the years we’ve been able to make some really great partnerships,” Kamins said. “The Nusbaum piece was kind of born of that partnership idea, because the New Mexico History Museum and Palace of the Governors Photo Archives have been such good friends. We did all the video installations for the new History Museum. [Former director of the Palace of the Governors] Fran Levine and I were just putting our heads together, because she’s known
¡COLORES! for a long time. She was using it when she was teaching. We came up with a way to promote New Mexico history, and we got a grant for an online/ broadcast series called Moments in Time.” That series entailed the production of 15 short videos about the state’s history, with topics including early filmmaking in New Mexico and the stories of the Palace of the Governors and the Rough Riders. “It was really great because Fran got to have an exhibit outside the museum walls, and we got some great content for our educational mission.”
That collaboration led not only to the Nusbaum profile but to a photography piece about lowriders. “We talked with [photographer and writer] Don Usner, and he told us about the sort of holy land of lowriding,” Walch said. “It’s so crazy and beautiful.” The
¡COLORES! piece on lowriders aired in November. The producers also documented the May 22 Lowrider Day on the Plaza, staged in conjunction with the New Mexico History Museum exhibit Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico.
Of course, not all ¡COLORES! episodes are so celebratory. “We’re trying to tell good stories, and sometimes they don’t appeal to a general audience, but they’re still important stories to tell. I did a documentary on a special-needs dance group. Another was the piece we once did about growing old. We talked to Wilson Hurley, Frederick Hammersley, George Pearl, and Florence Pierce.”
The KNME program finds stories all over the state, but the capital city’s focus on arts and culture provides a wealth of subject matter. “We were just at the Lensic earlier this month documenting Nuestra Música,” Kamins said. “I’m surprised we didn’t do it sooner. This was like the 20th time they did the program, and it was just the best evening. I mean, Roberto Mondragón kicked off the performance and had the audience in the palm of his hand, and it was nonstop right to the end with [nonagenarian singer/accordionist/ guitarist] Antonia Apodaca just wowing everybody. She really is a rock star. Tonie was in the first year of ¡COLORES! We went up to her house in Rociada. That was one of my first documentaries I ever produced.”
The Nuestra Música program will be featured in an hourlong special; Walch was planning to add an inperson interview with musician Cipriano Vigil. “We’ll use this as a performance special to celebrate New Mexico music, and then we’ll do ¡COLORES! breakout segments out of that,” Kamins said. A similar strategy was brought into play with
New Mexico Masterpieces, a series that began airing in December. “We did profiles in pieces so we could air them on ¡COLORES!, but then we put them all together as an hourlong doc,” Walch explained. “There’s a piece about Ernest L. Blumenschein’s painting Star Road and White Sun, and we shot at Pueblo Bonito and interviewed Rina Swentzell (1939-2015). Also, we looked at Grey Cross With
Blue, a painting Georgia O’Keeffe did the first summer she was in New Mexico.”
Other featured masterpieces included Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi, the Victor Higgins painting Winter Funeral, the John Nichols novel The Milagro Beanfield War, and T.C. Cannon’s painting Collector #5. “We also did Frederico Vigil’s torreón project [the 4,000-square-foot
Mundos de Mestizaje fresco] at the National Hispanic Cultural Center — sthe sides and ceiling of this twostory torreón that tell stories from the history of the people of New Mexico.”
¡COLORES! (which has won 20 Rocky Mountain EMMY Awards) is “devoted to the creative spirit found in New Mexico,” Kamins said. The June 11 program features Americans for the Arts president Robert Lynch, artist Sibylle Szaggars Redford, illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky, and the Miami City Ballet. June 18 featurees are Tewa artist Jason Garcia, the Missing Peace Art Space, and the “Dance — the Next Generation” program. On June 25, look for profiles on painter Jim Vogel, guitarist Larry Mitchell, and photographer Gurudarshan Khalsa. The show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KNME Channel 5.