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On reading about the annual occurrence of monsoon rain in one of the hottest parts of the US, I wanted to see it. Here was a stretch of the US-Mexico border made infamous by Trump, bisected by the ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham people, with a biome unlike any other on the planet. As I found out, wanting to be in a place makes filming in 48 degree heat manageable.


Sharing different lives lived in the Sonoran desert was a way of showing how we create numerous realities from the barest materials. Sometimes they intersect, sometimes they diverge. In this place, they are all determined by a bristling, beautiful, endless landscape.


I had one contributor, Aaron, a cross between Joe Rogan and David Attenborough, on board before I left. The Eagles of Desert posted regular updates of their missions to rescue exhausted border crossers, so I wasn’t worried about making contact with them. To find someone from the Tohono O’odham Nation was what I was expecting to be the challenge. The rep at Tucson film office claimed no-one had filmed on the reservation in his 14 years of trying.


On my first trip up to the Nation, I met a teenage bull rider called Monique. We didn’t realise until the end of the day spent harvesting saguaro cactus fruit that her mother, Faith, was the only O’odham who had replied to my messages in three months: a single kind message sent a month prior with no follow up since.


Trying to follow these three stories, on my own, across hundreds of miles of desert, was the real challenge. I knew that their differing encounters with the same elements of the desert would create dialogue between their stories on screen. But how to be there for them all? In the end, I tended towards spending time with Faith and Monique, because their world encompassed so much of the other two.


Faith told me that Tohono O’odham translates as “Desert People” and their creation story says they were made from earth carried under Turtle's claws, brought up from the depths of a desert flood. Theirs is the oldest claim to ownership of these borderlands as they have been crossing between the US and Mexico since before either nation existed.


The family welcomed me. We danced and ate and talked late and all this was all off camera. I worried about missed opportunities. On the penultimate day of the shoot, I received a call from someone who had heard I was making a film. Against her previous misgivings about engaging with the media, she had decided to gift me a song sung in the Tohono O’odham language. We recorded it hours before I flew home.


Set to music composed in London, it is the heart of my favourite sequence in the film.

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