Arizona filmmaker Chaz Lee won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, he won’t shirk a task and he wouldn’t let anything keep him from making his all-Arizona western film “Copper Wind,” or stop him from premiering it last Friday night at the Herberger Theatre in downtown Phoenix. From the get go, this was a project so overwhelming in it’s conception that when first announced at the 2012 Phoenix Film Festival, the phrase ‘overly ambitious’ was forced out of retirement. An all Arizona feature length western, with an enormous cast, a tiny budget, and a completion/release date within the year? The line of detractors was long, with myself standing at the front of it. It was the desire of director Lee to have ‘Copper Wind’ completed the same year as the Arizona Centennial, and Lee has certainly fulfilled that noble goal. “Copper Wind” is set in the year 1881 in the Arizona territory. A ruthless band of outlaws led by psychopath Zachariah Lee Bodie (writer/director Chaz Lee) roams the Arizona desert killing everything in sight. And I mean everything. In an act of vengeance, a young stranger has executed one of Bodies’ trusted henchman, angering Bodie and sending him and his murderous crew on the trail of retribution. The town sheriff and his deputy dejectedly pontificate life, as they prepare for the hellfire that is about to descend upon their little town. Along the way, there are historical lessons to be learned, and several dichotomous, internal and external struggles between religion and bloodlust. But mostly there are guns. Lots and lots of guns. And land ‘o-goshen there is death a’ plenty, with probably the highest body count in an Arizona indie film to date.
‘Copper Wind’ also provides a breathtaking and terrifying supernatural tale of the old west, rife with murder, rape, robbery and revenge. While the film is burdened with an overabundance of characters, conflicts and cogitation, the dialog isn’t bad; there’s just too darn much of it. The story is a good story, why heck, it’s even a good Arizona story (John Joel Glanton and his murderous gang, felled by the Yuma Indians, perhaps?). The tall tale isn’t told succinctly though, instead, it plays out like the cinematic representation of a Ned Buntline novel, or the overindulgence of a Larry McMurtry epic.
The premiere of ‘Copper Wind’ was a stressful event, fraught with delays and disasters to say the least. Perhaps it is what happens when a filmmaker, be they first timers or gristled vets, take a moment to whistle in the mine. As sure as a lantern teeters on the hanging wall, the ire of the Tommyknockers is raised, as they wreak havoc with renderings and formats, sabotaging sounds and syncs. After a two-hour delay, the screening proceeded complete with editing glitches, audio drops and a bevy of video malfunctions. Director Lee took to the stage in mid screening, prepared to cede to the union of ghostly technological blackguards nefariously tinkering with his highly anticipated presentation. But the audience filled with cowboys, cast and crew would have none of it, demanding that the evening proceed. These are the moments that inspire me to stick around the AZ indie film scene, for those involved in this production have all saddled up long ago, determined to complete this arduous journey, and none were keen on riding off into the sunset. Not just yet anyway.
‘Copper Wind’ has not struck gold in its present configuration, but it is certainly a rich deposit of spectacular images and engaging storytelling. The combined talents of the best of Arizona theatre and independent film, and the precedent-setting aerial photography provided by Birds Eye Productions fuel the intense flame from which this hunk of raw steel can ablate into the polished, chrome precision of an 1875 Smith and Wesson Schofield. In the hands of the talented post-production professionals of Arizona, ‘Copper Wind’ can be free of the chaff which keeps it from its full yield, and will allow this determined production to be completed with all of its intended intensity.
Final Take – Gold dust.