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America's Western Soundstage in Peril by Frances Causey

September 15, 2013

Proposed Rosemont Copper mine threatens Southern Arizona’s historic filming locations.

(TUCSON, ARIZONA)– Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a coalition of  southern Arizona farmers, ranchers, residents and business owners, today  released a six-minute film chronicling the threats from the proposed  Rosemont Copper mine to some of America’s most cherished western filming  locations. 

Southern Arizona filmmaker Frances Causey who produced the short film  arguably calls Arizona “America’s western soundstage” as the film cites  an envious legacy of western filmmaking in the state that boasts  numerous theatrical and television credits. Southern Arizona,  particularly the Rosemont and Empire Valleys- where the Rosemont Copper  would be built- have hosted such films as Oklahoma!, Red River, and 310:  to Yuma, among many others. Both Gunsmoke and Bonanza were also shot in  southern Arizona.

But future filmmaking in a large part of the area is threatened by  the Rosemont Copper Company’s proposal to blast a mile-wide, half-mile  deep open pit copper mine in southern Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains.  The company also plans to bury more than four square miles of the  Coronado National Forest under 700 feet of toxic mining waste laced with mercury, arsenic, lead and other poisons.

Tim Flood, a Tucson-based location manager who has worked on several  big budget Hollywood film productions shot in southern Arizona, believes  that mining and filming are fundamentally incompatible. Flood says that  mining will “pose a real threat, even the ability to film in that area  anymore.”

Tucson Film Commissioner Shelli Hall, who appears in the film, says  film productions featuring Arizona’s beautiful and rugged landscape and  unique locations have for many years effectively showcased Arizona to  global audiences. Hall explains that the Tucson Film Office, which  markets Arizona to film producers, is a key part of the $2.5 billion  dollar tourism industry in southern Arizona. According to Hall, “films  add to the lure that brings visitors here. People from around the world  have a vision from the TV shows and films and they want to experience  that.”

Hall says that filming in Arizona has brought hundreds of millions of  dollars over the years to southern Arizona in the form of jobs for  people behind the camera, jobs for talent and extras in front of the  camera, location fees and hotel room nights.

The film features native Arizonan Lisa Sharp whose family owned the  historic San Rafael Cattle Ranch where several western films were shot  during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Sharp happily recalls working with film  crews as a child and the excitement that the productions brought to her  family’s ranch. Sharp says, “I mean everything was exciting as a kid,  you know? And you’d see these guys get thrown off their horses and the  fences would break and you’d wonder ‘oh my god’ and as soon as the word  cut happened, then everybody would get up. The guys would go repair the  fences again and start all over again. I mean it was great!”

Tim Flood, the location manager, summed it up by noting that usually  mines are only used in apocalyptic scenes and, he said, “We don’t need  another apocalypse in southern Arizona so we have plenty of open pit  mines and there are multiple places where copper is readily available  without having to devastate a pristine area like the Rosemont Valley and  Empire Valley.”

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