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Film Review: Desert Dreams

Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert


It took four years for filmmaker Thomas Wiewandt to bring his mesmerizing Desert Dreams to the screen. It took decades longer to develop the transcendent awareness of nature that informs this wordless cinematic poem, accompanied by the music of Gary Stroutsos, filling the screen not only with the sights and sounds of the desert but also with the primal pulse of life itself.

The production “stars” 182 species of plants and animals, elegantly observed by Wiewandt, who earned degrees in biology, zoology, and ecology before becoming an award-winning filmmaker.

He pushes the definition of the genre, avoiding the convenience of narrative, much less anthropomorphism, in favor of something that might be likened to abstract art were his focus not so sharp, his editing less precise.

Veins in the ears of a jackrabbit, rain droplets on a caterpillar, the time-lapse ballet of clouds billowing against a blue sky—each arouses admiration and wonder. A gila monster raids eggs in a bird’s nest, while a rattlesnake and rabbit pass peacefully on a path—morality and judgment don’t exist in this realm. A red flower bursting from a cactus and bolts of lightning are as entertaining as a family of deer.

Stroutsos’s music brings Native American echoes into the landscape, melding with the wind. The film’s wordless approach might encourage viewers to provide their own narratives, until they realize that even labeling the creatures with biological names disrupts the perfection so eloquently observed through Wiewandt’s enlightened lens. — Rick Chatenever

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