Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert

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Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert, showcases 182 species of plants and animals in a first-of-its-kind presentation of the Sonoran Desert as it changes over the course of a full year. Desert Dreams blends HD video footage and time-lapse imagery captured over four years with stills from the filmmaker’s photographic archive compiled over three decades to chronicle five seasons: Dry Summer, Wet Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. The supporting soundtrack combines natural sounds with a kaleidoscope of flute and percussion vignettes performed by world-class musician Gary Stroutsos, featuring 29 musical instruments with “earth tones” to create a pictorial and musical tapestry without narration or people.

“In an age when so many natural history programs bombard us with the human voice and try to impress us with overly dramatized images of wildlife, often in combat, Desert Dreams is a refreshing departure,” says Craig Ivanyi, executive director of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. “The film’s stunning imagery paired with beautiful, elegant music allows us to experience the glory of the Sonoran Desert as it is meant to be and to form our own interpretation of what that experience means to us.”

Nearly 86% of Arizona residents live in the Sonoran Desert, a landscape sweeping from Mexico to California, covering much of southern Arizona, including both Phoenix and Tucson. Desert Dreams offers an immersive multimedia experience, revealing the natural treasures that lie beyond urban surroundings.

Producer/director/cinematographer of the film, Thomas Wiewandt, discusses the film’s genesis. “Having explored, studied, and photographed the Sonoran Desert for 34 years,” says Wiewandt, “I saw the need for an immersive film that would allow others to ‘feel’ the Sonoran Desert as I have come to know it, as a place pulsing with life, beauty, and spirituality. In 2003, I met musician Gary Stroutsos. His unusual blend of cross-cultural flute and percussion caught my ear, and my photographic imagery caught his eye—the birth of this project. What will surprise many people is our decision to select most of the music for this film before we edited the picture, and the visuals were edited to fit the music. The structure of the story is based on my companion book Hidden Life of the Desert, and working within this framework, my editor John Hadwin and I chose music from Gary’s vast archive that we felt would best set the mood for each season. In one segment—the toads—I had the music in mind before shooting the footage.”

Viewers may download the names of the remarkable 182 species in the production, arranged in the order in which they appear in the film in English, Spanish and Latin. Also available is a compiled PDF download of the 29 musical instruments heard in the soundtrack, including Chinese bamboo Dize & Xiao flutes, the African clay pot udu drum, a Cuban Marimbula thumb piano, a Middle Eastern frame drum, and rim flutes indigenous to the American Southwest, among others. This list is cross-referenced with descriptions of visual content in the film so that viewers will know where each instrument occurs in the program. Both lists are available online here.