As you drive through Jemez Pueblo in central New Mexico, you can pull off the west side of Highway 4 onto Big Bear Road. If you do, you’ll quickly find yourself drifting back into time. The roads are dusty. The homes are old adobe. This is where you can find Fannie Lucero, who is both Walatowa (Jemez) and Laguna Pueblo, in the home where she was born and raised.
She is also the lead actor in a groundbreaking film called “She Sings to the Stars,” The movie is a rare feature-length with a Native actress playing the lead. Lucero plays Mabel, a Native grandmother who lives alone in her remote home tending to her cornfield and singing to the stars.
A few years ago, and the day before the annual Feast Day at Jemez Pueblo, Fannie found herself in Albuquerque running errands and picking up her grandson. That is where fate intervened and brought the producers of the film together with Lucero.
“This one woman kept talking to me and she sat by me. Out of the blue she asked, ‘Have you ever thought about being in a movie?’ It shocked me,” explained Lucero, who resides with her husband on the Gila River reservation in Arizona.
“Then she asked, ‘Would you like to be in a movie?’ I said, ‘I guess so.’ In my mind I’m thinking about all those Indian movies I’ve seen where there are old Indian ladies making frybread. I thought it was something like that.
“She asked me to audition for the movie. She rushed out to her car and came back with a script to practice. She was the casting director and had called the director and producer and said, ‘You have to meet this lady.’ As soon as they saw me they were curious about everything.
“Two or three weeks later I got a phone call and they told me I got the part.”
Jennifer Corcoran, director and screenwriter for the film, said, “When we did her screening test the whole screen lit up. It was amazing. Fannie had just an amazing presence on screen. It wasn’t like she was trying to play a part. She carries such a presence.”
“Jennifer told me, ‘This is your movie, you’re the star,’” said Lucero. “She told me not to change anything – don’t cut your hair, don’t dye your hair, and don’t get a face lift. Just stay who you are.”
The movie has one character in particular, a magician with a black top hat, who winds up at Mabel’s house looking for water.
“The magician is sort of your collective neurotic white man,” said Corcoran. “The characters arrive on your doorstep and you have to live with them. I think what was really funny is that he’s wearing a black hat.
Movie still from 'She Sings to the Stars'
Corcoran explained where the story came from.
“The seeds of it came from a dream. I used to live here in the Southwest and I’ve always been a dreamer. I had a series of dreams many years ago where the same elder kept appearing. Over the years, I’ve come to really respect dreams; understanding that they arrive at a certain time. You don’t make them up. I had a dream about this woman, Mabel, who came to me and she was sitting on the back porch.
“She said ‘it’s time to sing the song.’ That was the beginning of it. I was given these instructions and I had to figure out ‘what does this mean?’ It all came together. It took me a long time. It was a lot of about listening to people. I was a perpetual student and it made me feel very humbled.”
The multi-award winning film premiered at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco in 2014. It was re-finished and officially released in September 2015. For more information visit www.shesingstothestars.com.