I didn’t grow up watching Westerns. I remember them being on the midday movie on television and thought they were boring. As a kid I preferred comedies and spoofs. Even during film school when I had to study High Noon and The Searchers, I still was not a fan. Then during my twenties I gave the HBO series “Deadwood” a go and something changed. The idea of building a town, or a world where outcasts, natives and foreigners somehow had to figure out how to coexist and form a society was fascinating to me. In the world of the Western, laws were vague. People had to explore their own ideas of morality and ethics, and recognise their relationship to the land and its precious resources. There was this notion of a pioneering, adventurous spirit that resonated with me. It opened the door to the famous Sergio Leone trilogy which I had been ignoring for many years.
The trilogy hit me just at the right time. I liked Tarantino movies and was at my peak art-house, post film-school, cult cinema watching period. Everything about the films blew me away – the characters, the stories, the music, the cinematography, the offbeat style.
Fast forward twelve years and I found myself living in San Lorenzo del Escorial, a small mountain village just outside of Madrid. I had just moved from New York where I had produced an environmental documentary “Divide in Concord” about the first town in the USA to ban the sale of plastic bottled water. The experience showed me the power of local activism and the ability for communities to take action on a cause they believed in. I decided I wanted to continue to be a part of this storytelling in order to get important messages across the world and make a greater impact.
Between having awkward bad Spanish conversations with shopkeepers and going for walks in the mountains, I began researching what environmental issues Spain was facing. Eventually I came across an article about an Englishman trying to clean up areas of the desert in Spain right by where they filmed the famous Spaghetti Westerns. So I got in contact with Julian Phillips and we agreed to start production.
I knew immediately that I wanted to stylize this film like a classic Spaghetti Western as much as possible; to tell a universal tale of good vs bad, the mythology of an outsider hero who comes to a new place and destabilizes the status quo. A cowboy fighting the good fight. I roped my talented cinematographer friend Tyler Freeman Smith along for the ride and we drove across Spain to the region of Almeria.
Watch the teaser for the film below:
We toured the ramblas (dry river beds), interviewed locals and got beauty shots of the desert in all its majestic glory. We were fortunate enough to spend a few days filming in Mini Hollywood, one of the old locations that still have original sets. Trash, Can Cans and clean-ups, we got it all. Except for the elusive litterbugs themselves, the invisible collective unconsciousness that continues to mistreat the land. The longer I spent there, the more I could feel the divine presence of Mother Nature, in all her relentless power and grandeur. It is a cinematic place, and when not blisteringly hot, it is easy to see how the magic of its rocky twists, raggedy outcrops and dusty nooks draw people from all over the world to visit and live.
Julian started the community clean-ups in 2016 after noticing all the rubbish on his daily walks. He formed a non-profit organisation (P3 Ambiental) and applied for assistance from the Junta, but to date has received little support. For a few of the clean-ups the mayor of Tabernas assisted by providing containers and cleaning resources, but overall the problem of litter in the area is not being taken seriously. Nobody is getting caught and fined, the “no littering” signs are old and rusted. There is no great sense of urgency in regards to responding to the environmental degradation.
Julian Philips on the Spaghetti Western set in Tabernas desert, southern Spain. Photo:A Fistful of Rubbish
After launching the crowdfunding campaign we’ve received a great deal of support, but this enthusiasm has also been met with claims that the problem is being exaggerated. “Most of the desert is clean” they say. It’s true that thanks to the efforts of volunteers the situation is improving slightly, but a recent report from El Diario del Almeria has shown that there is no shortage of garbage strewn about.
There is still a long way to go. We are doing our best to raise awareness through the documentary and the campaign; to shed light on a problem that lies much deeper than the bottles and cans, televisions and mattresses that litter the surface.
We want people to care again. Lawrence Burton, our Native American character, says “The Earth is our Mother. To abuse the Land is to abuse your Mother”. The goal is not simply to clean up what has been thrown away, because in reality there is no “away”. Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is not enough. We also need to Rethink and to Respect. The goal is to observe how our every thought, word and action affects the world around us. One person can do a lot, but collectively we can do much more.
Like all the great Westerns, it’s about survival and prospering.
Follow Dave Regos and the campaign and documentary film developments on Facebook,
Twitter and Instagram Click on the link below for more information on the film project and how to contribute to its crowdfunding