The unpromised land
Documenting life on Pajarito Mesa
The sun creeps palely up Pajarito Mesa, a nearly 18,000-acre tract of desolate land just 15 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Carlos Proffit peers out at the desert dawn from his makeshift home on the mesa. “Sometimes the wind’s howling, crashing,” he tells the camera. “Some people get frightened when they get out into open country. Some people feel perfectly at home.” Proffit is a central figure in Jesse R. Fisher and Jackie Munro’s affecting documentary A New Land (Una Nueva Tierra), which plays at The Screen Thursday, Oct. 19, as part of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. The film follows three families who live without water or electricity on Pajarito, as residents call it, in trailers or jerry-built houses among the piles of trash that city residents dump out on the forgotten plateau. Proffit agitates for recognition from the city of Albuquerque, whose police often have trouble finding 911 callers since the mesa is not on the first-responder map — even though it’s been estimated that more than 1,000 people reside on Pajarito, which is also a popular place for criminals to commit gangland-style murders and leave bodies. “Who lives here?” Proffit asks in the movie. “I call us the unwashed and the unprepared.”
In addition to Proffit and his partner Dora Verdin, the filmmakers spent time with Bura, also known as Bernardo, a Mexican immigrant in his seventies, as well as his brother Socorro Iguado Mendoza. The camera follows Bura around the desert as he picks up refuse to repurpose while waxing philosophical on the immigrant experience, pondering what it is to live between two countries and never fully belong to either one. Another struggling family on the mesa is made up of feisty veteran Vanessa Duncan and her partner Mario Soto, along with their young son Dinaho, who comb the land looking for salable items to hawk along the roadside as they await a muchneeded check from the VA.