Westerns transport their audiences to another time and place: dusty ranches, open deserts, small-town mystique. But it’s rare that fans get the chance to literally immerse themselves in these cinematic landscapes…until now. Celebrating its inaugural iteration this Memorial Day weekend, the Pioneertown International Film Festival aims to do just that. Considering the history of its namesake, it’s surprising that the event didn’t start earlier.
Pioneertown was built in the 1940s on the outskirts of Joshua Tree by famous Western actor and musician Roy Rogers, among other business-minded Hollywood elites. The intent was to recreate the look and feel of an authentic Western town filled with soundstages, so that the filmmakers could live and breathe the movies they were making (notable titles shot in the area include such Westerns as Tell ’em Willie Boy was here starring Robert Redford, and shows like Annie Oakley Y The Gene Autry Show). “Hundreds and hundreds of westerns were made here — TV and movies,” explains the festival’s founder, filmmaker Julian T. Pinder, who stumbled upon the moviegoer’s haven long before its 21st-century resurgence as a getaway destination for moviegoers. Los Angeles industry stalwarts. with expendable income.
Pinder is a director, writer, and producer with decades of credits under his belt (most recently known for creating and directing Netflix’s fire hunters, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio). Pinder had been on a road trip and noticed the lair’s unusual name while he was looking for directions. “I ended up driving there just because of a little word on the map. The moment I saw it, I fell in love and then I ended up moving to a ranch in the mountains with [my] horses,” he explains. “It has this really amazing cultural history. I thought it should be celebrated. And people should remember what his legacy is and what he did for the western film genre. So [the idea for the festival] came out of it.”
Dave Miller has lived in Pioneertown since 2006 and is the founder of the Friends of Pioneertown community organization and leadership group. Because the place is so small, the town doesn’t have an actual mayor, but Miller has been affectionately dubbed the unofficial mayor of Pioneertown by his peers. “I totally deny it, but that seems to have been the reputation I’ve been given,” he laughs. He has been dreaming of a festival celebrating the legacy of this unique township for years: “We’ve always been 100 percent supportive. What do you (Pinder) need us to do and how can we help?” When COVID delayed the festival, Miller and his friends helped maintain the drive-in theater that had been built to host some of the festival’s screenings. Miller explains that “what we have done is make sure that the city facilities can accommodate [the festival]that the county is not going to shut it down.”
Conceptualizing and organizing a new film festival is no easy task, and it’s far from anything Pinder had done before. He began incubating the idea more than a decade ago, and after years of planning and collaborating with other like-minded collaborators, his dream is finally becoming a reality. At first, he wasn’t sure if his vision of an exclusively Western-focused festival was feasible: “We didn’t know if there were enough contemporary Westerns being made that it wasn’t just some kind of cheesy classics festival,” he explains. . . “We really did a deep dive for quite some time, for several years, consulting with other film festivals, filmmakers, with studios, with distribution companies, with friends, to really find out if we could really do a western-centric festival. . And it turns out, in the end, we really felt like we could.”
It brought on Todd Luoto, formerly of the Sundance short film programs as well as the Newport Beach and Silver Lake film festivals, as its head of programming. Early conversations between Pinder and Luoto examined what “Western” meant to them as a film genre. “tremors It’s kind of a western, and Star Wars it’s kind of a western: these movies that have a narrative that follows the western archetype, even though they’re not people in the 19th century on a horse and carriage in a small western town. So we approached it that way, but we still wanted to keep it kind of traditional,” Pinder reflects. “We’re both fans of the genre,” Luoto offers, adding, “I think Julian certainly looks a little more like a real cowboy.”
Luoto emphasizes that in the selection process, the festival made a commitment to recognize and work against the often problematic tropes of the genre. “We both really wanted to make a modern festival that attacked these issues head-on, in terms of some of the more problematic elements that are unfortunately part of the Western genre,” explains Luoto. “And not really running away from that, but seeing if we can create an experience that addresses them and, in turn, tries to create a new kind of Western language.” That meant seeking to highlight indigenous voices wherever possible: the opening night film, the last manhunt it is “from an indigenous perspective and filmmaker,” says Luoto. Produced by Jason Momoa and directed by Christian Camargo, it tells the tragic true story of the last great organized manhunt in the Old West, based on the oral history of the Chemehuevi tribe.
Other highlights of the poster include that of the Ukrainian director Roman Perfilyev the inglorious servants, described by Pinder as “Tarantino-esque”. Displaced by the war, Perfilyev and his family have fled to the United States; they will be taken to Pioneertown to see the movie on the big screen. In addition, “Adam Piron, who is the new director of the Indigenous Program at the Sundance Institute, presents [Jim Jarmusch’s] movie Dead manwhich is one of his favorites, and I’ll talk about that too,” adds Luoto.
The closing night film is a screening of Alexandre O. Philippe’s Western documentary. The take, “all about Monument Valley [the stretch of desert near the Arizona-Utah border owned by the Navajo tribe and often used for filming Westerns] and looking at the westerns, the folklore, the mythology and some of the pros and cons with some of the representations that have been there and what that has done to the Navajos, to those who live there and to people’s perceptions of what a western is. The programming team has ensured that each selection is represented by moviegoers. “Literally every movie we show, even the classics, has someone who has been a part of it, or is a part of it,” says Pinder. “Even our tribute to Monte Hellman, who sadly passed away last year: we’re screening Acid Westerns of him that he did with Jack Nicholson in the ’60s. [. And Monte’s daughter and Jack’s daughter will be presenting that program.” There’s also a 30th anniversary screening of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, with director Phil Nibbelink attending.
Ultimately, the Pioneertown organizing team are most excited to pay tribute to the town and genre’s history while paving the way forward in terms of how a Western is defined. “One of the principal reasons we started The Friends of Pioneertown was the Western heritage of the town was being buried and lost. Our principle purpose is to keep that heritage alive,” says Miller, who’s thrilled that the festival will celebrate historic Western films hidden in the dust for too long. In future iterations of the event, “I’d like us to continue to push the idea of what a Western can be, and be experimental and innovative in our approach to that,” Luoto says. Another goal for the festival: “Increasing representation,” Luoto continues. “It’s nice that we’re having indigenous voices that are part of this, it’s great that we have some women filmmakers as well, but I’m hopeful that that will continue to change and evolve, [and that] the genre will be seen as more open and shared by all”.