When the Coronavirus pandemic began in earnest last March, thousands of industries shut down overnight, leaving millions of people without work. Everyone from bartenders to, well, newspaper reporters found themselves out of a job and confined to their homes in a sort of extended, Netflix-fueled hibernation.
Brent Morris is a longtime fixture on the New Mexico film scene, a producer and production manager on a string of largely independent films shot mostly here in the Southwest (Smoke Signals, Monster, The Devil’s Rejects, Sunshine Cleaning, Frank and Shot Caller among them). Last spring, however, he was just another unemployed New Mexican when his industry closed up shop to keep COVID at bay. But the lack of activity didn’t sit well with him. It wasn’t long before he was plotting to shoot a feature film.
“I had loads of free time and needed a creative outlet, because I was slipping into a slightly agitated depression constantly watching the COVID news, the rising death toll, the government’s inept response,” says Morris. To him, the idea of making a movie “was a way to connect with friends and family while we were all on lockdown.”
The veteran filmmaker reached out to about 20 people, “friends I had worked with recently at Meow Wolf and over the past years here in N.M. who I thought would be interested. I think six of those initial contacts stuck after a couple of preliminary Zoom conversations, and then a few more came aboard to participate in various ways.”
Each of the local writer-directors Morris eventually assembled (Brennan Foster, Reinhard Lorenz, Molly McKinley, Angelique Midthunder, Otgadahe Whitman-Fox), contributed their own individual short segments—shooting with crews of less than five people, wearing masks between takes, sanitizing sets and trying their best to capture some fragment (funny, dramatic, serious, surreal) of what effect the pandemic was having on humanity. A filmmaker volunteering for Wheels on Meals begins to wonder if his delivery route runs through an alternate dimension; a young woman grapples with the rising tide of anti-Asian xenophobia; a family enlivens their lockdown with a Melville-inspired home cooking challenge; a Native woman attempts to deliver her first baby by doula; and an isolated mental health worker tries to take a break from her own house during a day of remote therapy sessions. The result is the collaborative anthology film Pandemic Response.
“I thought we might try to capture a very unique moment in our lives and with any luck, document it creatively, so we would have something to look back on when this is all over to remember this very difficult period,” says Morris, whose segment “A Different Sun” anchors the film.
Pandemic Response is available through Guild Cinema’s “view at home” program. The local Nob Hill art house theater has made a number of local productions available online during the pandemic. Simply go to guildcinema.com/local_films/local_filmmakers.html and scroll through the dozen or so New Mexico features and shorts available. For a mere $5 donation, you can stream Morris and company’s Pandemic Response. Part of the money goes toward keeping Guild Cinema alive during the shutdown. The film is available for viewing until April 30. After that, the film moves to the ad-supported streaming service Tubi.
As for the future of his industry, Morris has hope. “I personally have been working almost nonstop since July producing/production managing other projects. … I think the pent-up demand during the shutdown for new content will bring us a very busy stretch and the industry here will bounce back more than ever this summer and fall.”