Daniel Salazar's latest project needs funding

Colorado artist Daniel Salazar wants to solve a mystery, one with roots that go back more than 400 years, in the New Mexican village of Acoma. And Salazar — a filmmaker and photographer who has worked with El Centro Su Teatro and Denver Public Schools — also wants to make a movie about it, with your help.

In 1998, near Española, New Mexico, someone severed the foot from a bronze statue of Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate with a saw. The statue honored the man who had served as New Mexico's first Spanish colonial governor, from 1598 to 1608. Española, about 150 miles from Acoma, was celebrating its 400th anniversary at the time.

But the establishment of Española, the first Spanish settlement in the West, also led to the death or enslavement of more than a thousand Acoma Indians. In fact, after the Acoma tribe rose up in defiance of Oñate in 1599, the conquistador ordered that the left foot of every fighting-aged man in the village be severed.

Now, someone had (symbolically) done the same to him.

"The story of Oñate's foot is really the resistance of the Pueblo communities," Salazar tells Westword's Jenny An. However, it's also about a shared history between the descendants of the Spanish conquistadors and the Native Americans who continue to live in Acoma.

Salazar learned about that history while working on another documentary in New Mexico. Whenever he mentioned the story to people in the area, whether they were of Native American, Spanish or other heritage, they always had a lot to say.

The project, which Salazar describes as "part mystery, part history and part reality show," will follow his search for the foot, something he estimates will take nine months, and include standard techniques like interviewing people (though, Salazar admits, the Pueblos are very hush-hush, since "part of the survival [of the tribe] is that they don't share much"), but also zanier techniques like buying billboards and building floats for parades.

One of his only clues: Whoever stole the foot sent a note to the Albuquerque Journal saying that it had been taken on behalf of the Pueblo people.

To finance his project, Salazar hope to raise $12,500 via United States Artists, a "crowdfunding" platform similar to Kickstarter that allows supporters to learn about the film and donate online. He'll spend the money on travel expenses, billboards and floats. In return, donors will receive gifts (like a personalized offer for a two-day guided tour of a Pueblo village), depending on how much they chip in. More specifics are at the United States Artists site. Salazar plans to start his journey in January, so potential investors have until January 10 to donate.

And despite its subject matter, the final product, which he hopes to release in late 2012, won't be "a somber or scholarly activity," Salazar says. There'll be jokes, gags and even a little animation. Ultimately, Salazar would like to see the Oñate Monument and Visitors Center center in New Mexico install an exhibit about the foot and its history.

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