Monday, February 26

The Crestone Eagle is a nonprofit monthly newspaper serving Crestone and the San Luis Valley

The Flame: A filmmaker aims his camera at the spiritual life of Crestone/Baca

A curious person reads, observes, talks with people and ponders. A curious filmmaker does all these things in the process of making films. That’s how filmmaker Sean Owen is attempting to satisfy his curiosity about a subject that began piquing his interest a few years ago: the community of spiritual centers in the Crestone/Baca.

The 69-year-old Durango resident is currently about halfway through filming a documentary with the working title, The Flame. The feature-length film is aimed at addressing some of his questions about the religious and spiritual groups based here—how each group keeps the flame of its own tradition alive, what distinguishes the various approaches and what they have in common. The project is also, as it turns out, a way for Owen to gauge his own resonance with diverse teachings as he explores his personal spiritual path.
During a half-dozen working visits to Crestone over the past months, Owen has filmed interviews with key figures at a number of the spiritual centers. He plans to return once a month or so for at least the next six months. Along with covering the various traditions, he is interviewing longtime local residents, gathering historical material and shooting background and landscape footage during different seasons. Together these elements are aimed at painting a picture of the broader community and context within which the spiritual centers are located.

Owen’s goal is to complete the film for screening in Crestone and at film festivals by September 2013. Before then, however, a glimpse at the beautifully filmed work-in-progress—and Owen’s style—already is available. A six-minute trailer for The Flame can be seen at the filmmaker’s website,, along with summaries of his previous projects.

A native of the San Francisco Bay area, Owen studied photography and film at the San Francisco Art Institute and at Prescott College in Arizona. As a young man he apprenticed for a time in the studio of his father, well-known Arizona-based sculptor John Waddell. The experience helped refine Owen’s grasp of such art fundamentals as drawing, perspective and composition while confirming in his own mind that sculpture was not his preferred creative path. Beginning in 1973 he spent 33 years in administrative and teaching positions at boarding schools in Sedona, at Walnut Hill arts boarding school in Boston and at Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild, California. He served as dean of students and headmaster and taught photography, video production and Tae Kwon Do, in which he holds a 5th-degree black belt.
After retiring in 2005, Owen and his wife settled in Durango and his filmmaking focus became full-time. Among his eight previous films, all documentaries, are Borderlands, a portrait of Cahuilla Indian performance artist Gerald Clarke, and Sing Birds, which opened the Palm Springs Native Film Festival to an overflow audience in 2009 and was nominated for best documentary at the Native American Film Festival in San Francisco. Sing Birds focuses on the ancient tradition known as bird songs, ceremonial and social singing among tribes in California and Arizona.

For more than four decades Owen has been exploring many of the world’s religious and spiritual approaches by reading, listening to spiritual teachers and attending retreats. About five years ago he was introduced to Crestone when his wife attended a retreat at the White Eagle led by Dharma Ocean’s Reggie Ray, and later returned to visit a friend. (An avid climber, he previously climbed Kit Carson Peak but approached it from the Wet Mountain Valley.) Finding such a diverse array of spiritual groups in one place opened the door to learning more by making a film.

“I always have an idea of what I’m going to do, but I walk into a film with not a whole lot of expectations,” Owen says. With this project, his initial concept has expanded to incorporate more of the local community and historical context of the spiritual centers, including their cultural and economic impact. Currently he is hoping to connect with longtime area residents who knew Crestone and Moffat before the first of the spiritual centers was invited to locate here, as well as individuals who can talk about the transition from a former mining town to a diverse, culturally vibrant community as we know it now. “I’m not quite sure yet how I’m going to mix it all together,” he acknowledges, “but I will.”

Owen welcomes input from those whose voices and perspectives can add to the film. His next visit to Crestone is planned for early August shortly after the music festival. He can be reached at or 970-247-1260.

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