The Director of ‘Mystery of Now’ talks about her journey as a film maker.
For Audrey Buchanan, creating art began when she was a little girl, with the joy of imagination.
“I come from a family of storytellers,” she says, “and from a young age my imagination was my favorite form of escape. I could follow a color, a sound, a word, or a song, and thread a ribbon of visuals in my head.”
No surprise Audrey found herself drawn to filmmaking. She studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – a major she heartily recommends for anyone, because of the multipurpose tools it teaches: “Tools for how to express yourself. How to convey your ideas. How to put form to thoughts, feelings, and intuition.”
Later, Buchanan met filmmaking icons such as dream hampton – the Detroit-based filmmaker and writer who produced Lifetime’s 2019 documentary series Surviving R. Kelly (she spells her name with no capital letters) – and Bobby Bailey, known for his short films about the lives of children growing up in war-torn Uganda. These creators, Buchanan says, “lit a spark in my heart with their art.”
Buchanan grew up in the Midwest, playing in woods and swimming in lakes. Her parents were middle-school teachers, and her mother was a naturalist at an outdoor learning center. Audrey grew up with a passion for teaching and a love for nature that she says runs in her blood.
So when Buchanan founded a production company in Los Angeles to serve as a home for her creative efforts, she named it The Woods.
Buchanan says the name reminds her of “what matters most – respect for mother nature, kinship with family, and what author Shauna Niequest calls ‘the essential self’ – the you that exists inside, natural as nature.”
Buchanan first met Douglas Miles through dream hampton – who had been to a social justice retreat with Miles in Utah. Then, Buchanan’s father attended a skateboard painting workshop led by Miles and his son Doug Jr. Her father returned full of joy and positivity as a result of the workshop.
At that moment, Buchanan says, “I knew that the Miles family had a unique and special power for transforming hearts and minds through art and story.”
Buchanan began to follow Douglas Miles more closely, through his Instagram feed, where Miles posts Apache art and biting political commentary. Miles’s words impressed Buchanan with their nuance and humor.
“This was at a time when people around the United States collectively felt shocked, scared, and unsure about the future,” Buchanan says. “And even more deeply, how they were supposed to relate to relatives and neighbors in kitchen-table conversations that were becoming more and more divided, more and more divisive.”
Buchanan began to envision creating a “visual essay” that would pair Miles’s words with powerful imagery. Soon, the next step revealed itself when Buchanan happened to meet Mustafa Rony Zeno, a young filmmaker who had just released parts of his new film. KTOWN’92 tells the story of the 1992 Los Angeles riots from the perspectives of African Americans, Latinos, and Koreans, allowing these people to tell their own stories and counteract the racial stereotypes that TV news coverage had reinforced.
Buchanan now knew what she wanted to create: an opinion editorial in film, featuring Douglas Miles’s words along with imagery of the San Carlos Apache Reservation.
At the time, Miles was working as a resident artist at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. Buchanan drove six hours and met him for coffee at a diner, where she proposed the idea of creating a piece of visual art together.
Buchanan says, “That day, he taught me the core philosophy of his community work with youth leaders in San Carlos – the power of their past, the fact that they are the keys to the future, and the meaning and mystery of the ‘now’ moments we live each day” – the rare but powerful moments of connection and insight that can give direction and purpose to our lives.
Next, the project gained its third member, the film’s director of photography, Carlos Reyes. “You always need a first believer,” Buchanan says. Buchanan met Reyes through composer Nathan Lim and pitched her idea. She recalls, “Carlos didn’t have to hear more than a few sentences to commit to bringing his entire team to Arizona.”
“There were so many other believers,” Buchanan says, “including our executive producers, Archana and Vijay Chattha, and dream hampton, who required no convincing – only showered us in encouragement, affirmation, and uplifting words of wisdom.”
Tyler Hicks joined the project as art/creative director and producer, and AJ Offerdahl contributed as screenwriter. Buchanan says the team worked in her apartment building a storyboard – an outline of the film’s content – on a wall.
“We spent countless hours, days, and months, birthing the words on that wall, arranging and rearranging, polishing the stone until it rang with so much truth and clarity that it just had to happen.”
Finally, the project had a committed crew, a production plan, and a clear idea of its desired outcomes and goals. Yet they faced one last challenge: Their departure for Arizona was approaching – and they had no vehicle to get there. As often happens, things came together magically at the last minute.
Buchanan says, “Cue the greatest blessing yet – our co-producer Kaylee Cole, who came on board one week before we physically pulled out of L.A. in our 12-passenger van.”
When asked to describe her time on the res during production, Buchanan becomes awe-struck. All she can say is, “Deep. Wide. Craggy. Brilliant. Beautiful. Mysterious. Thrilling.”
Buchanan stresses the fact that The Mystery of Now reflects a joint effort, where every person involved contributed. “The most important aspect of filmmaking that I’ve learned so far is that the crew and the subjects are embarking on creating something as equitable partners in thought, in artistry, and in vision,” Buchanan says.
“Creating a film is like shepherding a live organism – letting the oxygen, light, decay, and growth happen as it will.”
The result is a film that combines observations of the socio-political context of life on the San Carlos Apache reservation with Douglas Miles’s personal story: how and why he started a skateboard brand and gathered a team of local youth leaders.
“Douglas was always and will always be the most deliberate steward of his personal integrity, and the integrity of this project,” Buchanan says. “I feel lucky that our team was able to learn with and alongside him as this production came to life.”
“The Miles family and the Apache Skateboards team gave us the gift of documenting truth in action.”
For Buchanan, that truth includes the “indigenous joy, creativity, power and resilience” she encountered on the res.
“It’s the truth. It’s real,” she says.
“Truth is power.”
Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.