THE ARIZONA HISTORY/STORY TELLER…A conversation with Kristin Atwell Ford

I do not know who was more giddy of the two of us, either Kristin or myself!

I had a long standing relationship with the creative that was her. I knew of her work and was already a fan, but never realized that she was the mind, and the typing letters behind some of my favorite documentaries. And boy!, I do watch documentaries!

See, when I moved to Arizona, I had no network of friends, or family, whoever was my first host in the US and his wife moved to Dallas within months of me arriving to Phoenix. I then, accepted the job offer nay the local architectural firm, so I decided to stay, Alone, but to stay to create a life in the Southwest.

My weekends were full of walks around the Roosevelt District in Downtown PHX (where I used to live and before the BOOM that is today), and long evenings in the Burton Barr Central Library working on my thesis project or longer weekends watching TV.

One of the TV channels I learned to love (and I support today) is KAET: Channel 8 – AZPBS, and I caught a documentary produced for the Salt River Project (SRP), the Arizona based utility company and organization that cares for the hydraulic legacy and waters rights of our state, bout one of the biggest conquests in engineering of the last century.

The “Theodore Roosevelt Dam: Arizona’s Living Legacy”. So, I watched the documentary with open eyes and ears, since back then, my purpose was to learn as much as I was able about this place I later called home.

If you are unfamiliar with the conquest of the west and the management of water, and you are curious, well, this is a must watch. This was a documentary that Kristin wrote and Co-Produced back in 2011.

Narrated by the voice (the Arizona voice) of Peter Coyote, who I learned later that is more than an institution in Arizona and the country.

Click here for a preview.

By the way, this documentary won an Emmy Award! The “Theodore Roosevelt Dam: Arizona’s Living Legacy” won the Emmy for “Bet Historical Documentary” …and rightfully so

Years later, I attended an event for the O’Connor House Institute, an invitation extended by my great friend Kari Karns Yatkowski. I was able to meet and greet (back then when she was amongst us) one of Arizona’s living legacies, Justice Sandra Day O’connor, and I was jaw dropped to watch and hear the description and importance of her work as the first woman to be an associate judge at American Supreme Court and serve for 25 Years, and her legacy with the O’Connor House.

I have watched the series about the O’connor House on PBS Arizona! – I learned how much this is a valuable organization to have in our community, since incentives citizens to have a civil discourse and conversation about the civil issues we have to face, and take a proactive stand, rather than being an observant. A concept on its own that is very dear to my principles as a citizen in any community, association and group I belong.

Click here for a preview

Sandra Day O’Connor Institute For American Democracy

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So, when the moment came to start the list of who do I wanted to seat with, to talk about their life and conquests and giving back to Arizona and Arizonans, I ought to had with me the person that I knew, without knowing and someone that later in my Arizona days I was able to meet: Filmmaker, Producer and Writer… And all together storyteller Kristin Atwell Ford.

We talked about many subjects about her life, from the early days in the Arizona desert where she was born and grew up, to the days of hot summer swimming and fishing in the Arizona canals, which by the way a very typical practice to any BabyBoomer or GenX these days.

The conversation went on to talk about an Arizona landmark, “Castle of Hot Springs” and how her mother owned the locale for a number of years when she was young after the main hotel burned down and Arizona State University sold it back in the 80’s. She and her family used to spend winters, her sister got married there, and for many reasons she is the “Official Historian” of this jewel of a place in the Southwest.

The Watts family acquired the property in 2016 and renovated the entire place, making it reborn and going back to its shiny days!

Kristin then Co-produced, wrote and directed a documentary about it; “Castle of Hot Springs : Oasis of Time“.

Click here for a preview and check the voice again!

Another Emmy Award Documentary for Best Historical Documentary for Kristin and her team!

Her latest project is one that narrates the behind the scenes of the making of an Opera!

And the conversation kept flowing and we talked about the last opportunity when we were able to be out and about and together, without the fearful presence of a virus.

Now, the weekend before we went all in lock down, we attended the Arizona Opera to enjoy the first Western themed opera of all times: “Riders of the Purple Sage“. An opera that makes an unprecedented collaboration between the work of American west writer (Pearl) Zen Grey, American composer Craig Bohmler (who was with us show few editions back), librettist Steven Mark Kohn and Arizona’s “Visual poet laureate”, artist and talented modernist painter Ed Mell. I urge you to see it, as soon as we are back to large gatherings and as soon as the Arizona Opera or other institution (hopefully get the rights) and brings it back to stage.

Artist Ed Mell, working on sets for the “Riders of the Purple Sage” Opera.
Music Composer Craig Bohemler, during rehearsals for the ‘Riders of the Purple Sage” Opera.
Documentary Identity

During this part of the conversation, Kristin walked us through the making of her latest documentary “Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera

And once again, we realized that when the community is engaged in one idea, and it is connected under one purpose great things happen. Kristin mentioned of how during the first meeting, the team spoke about making sure that there was a visual recording of the making of the opera, and her further conversations with artist Ed Mell, who asked about the hard sets of the scenes, so he got on board and became part of the artistic team.

Collaboration moves mountains and create momentum, and this is how the Virigina G. Piper Foundation Charitable Trust offered a grant, Billie Jo & Judd Herberger with their ASU Foundation Herberger Institute for Design and Arts offered to be the Executive Producers, and of how Arizona Opera offered a grant and created an LED array screen backing the set for the opera, and other details of how all happened, and you should listen and see her excitement of narrating the moment during the interview.

  • “It is a celebration of collaborative art.”

You can see the preview of the documentary on Quantum Leap Productions, the production company where Kristin is associated as a producer and writer with and one that her life partner is the president/owner of, Mr. Dennis Ford.

Click here to see the preview.

Now, the documentary is nominated for an Emmy Award and has incredible reviews, including the most recent one by BroadwayWorld.com, where the documentary is qualified as:

– “Bold stunning!”.

We hope that this documentary is able to get the Rocky Mountains Emmy Awards and the (AZ) Governor’s Arts Awards by the Arizona Citizens for the Arts organization this upcoming Friday, since it is nominated for both, so, good luck!

When I asked, what could be her perfect project? If all funds and variable were perfectly given.

Well, she picked two!


The first, to make a documentary about her mother, who in 1962 had the first abortion in Arizona. She fought to make her rights and her body rights due to an unwillingly medical issue, becoming internationally publicized. It will be her 60th anniversary of her standing up to the world.

The second one, will be a feature film, where she wants to re-create and narrate the details of the building of the Roosevelt Dam. It will create the narrative of how the damn was build, the racial tensions of the time, the technical challenges and difficulties, and many other details of the time that ends on the crescendo of the raising waters on the Roosevelt town. A western setting with a girl hero (hopefully) with Peter Coyote narrating the feature film.

The message she gave us during these rather difficult times is one to listen too closely.

It was a moment from the heart!

Such a great conversation, full of personal moments and some surprises, I truly urge you to watch the entire one and plus hour of talk of OSCAR TALKS.

A unique episode with Director, Producer and Writer Kristin Atwell Ford, who tells the stories about the alchemy of people and place.

Thank you for a great time Kristin, and good luck harvesting all the awards you deserve!

Always in style,

Oscar~

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