DARK MOUNTAIN, Dir. TARA ANAÏSE
Writer: Tara Anaïse
In March of 2011, three filmmakers disappeared in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona while documenting their search for the Lost Dutchman Mine. Their bodies were never found..
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In March of 2011, three filmmakers disappeared in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona while documenting their search for the Lost Dutchman mine. Their bodies were never found.
Eight months later, their footage was.
Somewhere deep within Arizona’s Superstition Mountains lies the most famous lost gold mine in North American history—the Lost Dutchman Mine. Its estimated worth is around 200 million dollars. Since the turn of the twentieth century, thousands of people have scoured the mountains in search of it, hundreds have lost their lives in the process, but not a one has returned with an ounce of gold. Legend has it the mine is cursed.
In March of 2011, three Los Angeles filmmakers set out to find the mine and document their entire process. They never made it out of the Superstitions. Eight months later, their camera and cell phones were recovered along the western edge of LaBarge Canyon. No sign of the filmmakers themselves has been found to date. Dark Mountain is the chilling reconstruction of their last days. Inspired by actual events.
THE DUTCHMAN LEGEND
Tales of this lost treasure have lured many into the treacherous terrain of the Superstitions, obsession has pushed some to the brink of madness. Dutchman hunters claim that veins of pure gold run through the rock, glittering in the light of the setting sun. The legend began with a man named Jacob Waltz.
JACOB WALTZ, THE DUTCHMAN HIMSELF
Arizona territory, late 1800s. The tail end of the Gold Rush. Phoenix was nothing more than a glorified mining camp. An old prospector named Jacob Waltz was homesteading on the banks of the Salt River. He got his hands on a map to an abandoned mine that had once belonged to one of Mexico’s largest mining families, the Peraltas. How he came across this map varies from story to story. In our favorite, Waltz saved a man’s life in a bar brawl in Sonora. The man turned out to be Don Miguel Peralta, and in thanks, he gave Waltz a map to his family’s richest gold mine. The catch: the mine was located in the Superstition Mountains, deep in the heart of Apache territory. At the time, a trip like this could mean certain death. The Apaches had killed the last mining party that the Peraltas had sent out in the bloodiest massacre in Arizona history. The spot where it happened still bears the name “Massacre Grounds.” Like a true treasure hunter, Waltz was undeterred. He enlisted the help of his best friend, fellow prospector Jacob Weiser, and the two set out to find the mine. A couple of weeks later, Waltz emerged from the mountains with a sack full of gold ore…alone. He claimed that the Apaches had killed Weiser, but people couldn’t shake the thought that Waltz had turned on his partner, murdered him for the gold. The ore that Waltz brought back with him was the richest that anyone had ever seen in those parts. From then on, every winter Waltz would trek into those mountains for months at time. When he came back into town, he’d pay for everything in gold nuggets. Waltz was so secretive about the location of his mine that he never even filed a claim. On his deathbed in 1891, Waltz drew a map to his mine and gave it to Julia Thomas, the woman who was caring for him. He told her that he’d hidden the entrance so well that a person could be standing right in front of it and wouldn’t even know it was there. He also gave her a set of clues to help her in her search. After Waltz’s death, Thomas went out into the mountains time and time again, but she could never find the mine. And so a legend was born.
THE PECULIAR HISTORY OF THE SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS
Long before prospectors came to town digging for gold, indigenous tribes knew the Superstitions as the sacred setting of their creation myths. In the Hopi story of the Emergence, the first humans came up from the underground city of Palatkwapi through hidden portals deep within the mountains called sipapus. From here they entered the Fourth World, the world in which we all live today. The Pima have a story about a man and his wife who withstood a great flood by building an ark which deposited them right on top of Superstition Mountain. They also believe that an evil spirit lurks behind its peaks. The Apache referred to the mountains as the Devil’s Playground. Their Thunder God lived inside, and anyone who disrespected him by trespassing on his land was surely doomed.
Ask around today and locals will tell you stories about strange lights hovering in the sky above the mountains that disappear in an instant. They’ll talk about energy vortexes that take your breath away and pull on your body, making it feel like it’s made out of lead. Supposedly there are portals out there that can move from one place to another and make it possible for people to experience time and dimensional shifts. Around the solstices and equinoxes, people have seen swirling dense black shapes that pass right through them. Some will tell you about a series of secret underground tunnels running beneath the mountain. Others will point to the old military trail that supposedly runs right by old Jake’s mine and talk about a government conspiracy of the highest order. Spend enough time out there, and even the most skeptical among us will come to believe that there is something going on in those mountains.
THE DUTCHMAN CURSE
Is the Lost Dutchman Mine cursed? Adolph Ruth would think so if he were alive today. Ruth was a Dutch hunter who got a hold of a Peralta map and went into the mountains looking for the mine in the summer of 1931. He never came out. His skull was found six months later. The remains of his body weren’t discovered until January of 1932, about three quarters of a mile from the skull. His personal 3effects were also found at the scene. Among them was a journal in which he’d written that he’d found the mine. He included detailed directions, along with the words “Veni, vedi, vici.” The Peralta map was gone.
James Cravey was another prospector who disappeared in the mountains in June of 1947. His headless remains were found almost a year later. In February of 1951, John Burns, a doctor from Oregon, was found shot to death on Superstition Mountain. In 1952, two teenagers from California hiked into the mountains and never came back. In the spring of 1958, three hikers came across an a deserted campsite on the northern edge of the mountain. They found a bloodstained blanket, a gun-cleaning kit but no gun, and a few letters. The names and addresses had been ripped off. No sign of the camp’s inhabitant was ever found. In the early ‘90s, two college friends hiked out into the mountains to search for the mine, and one ended up murdering the other. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. All in all, it’s estimated that over five hundred people have died or disappeared in those mountains since Jacob Waltz left Julia Thomas his map in 1891. So is the mine cursed? Locals will tell you in no uncertain terms—absolutely.
KEY CREW BIOS
TARA ANAÏSE (writer/director) is a filmmaker whose most recent projects include the horror/thriller DARK MOUNTAIN, her feature directorial début, and the thriller HOUSEKEEPING, on which she’s a producer. In 2011, she participated in the Fox Diversity Writer’s Program with her original pilot, “Hare Krishna!” Fox also optioned the pilot. Tara’s short films have screened at festivals worldwide. She holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania (magna cum laude) and an MFA in film production from the University of Southern California (magna cum laude.) While at USC she received the Mary Pickford Award, the Gene Autry Award, and a grant from Fotokem for her thesis film. Tara is currently developing several new feature films. She lives and works in Los Angeles.
TAMARA BLAICH (producer) has been producing documentary film and television since 2004 and has written several features. She has two reality television concepts and a comedy feature in development. Her work has appeared on ABC, PBS, The Documentary Channel, E!, TLC, Style, and Oxygen as well as the web. She holds an MFA from the University of Southern California and a BA from Arizona State University. "Dark Mountain" is her first feature film and was inspired by her childhood in Arizona. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son and plans on catching up on her sleep in the year 2045.
JENNIFER HARRINGTON (producer/editor) is an award-winning filmmaker who has spent more than a decade creating features, shorts, television, music videos, and web content. Her short films have screened at festivals internationally and on IFC. She most recently directed the feature film HOUSEKEEPING and music videos for Dead Dawn and Toys That Kill. She also produced the upcoming feature film DARK MOUNTAIN starring Andrew Simpson. Her feature film script WINDCHILL is in development with independent producer Diane Cairns (Former Senior VP, ICM; former Senior VP of Production, Universal Pictures) and some of her upcoming projects include music videos, a web series, and another feature. As an editor, in the past year she cut the feature film HIROKIN starring Julian Sands and Wes Bentley, and the feature documentary film THE SOURCE which premiered at SXSW in 2012. She received her BFA in film production from UCLA and her MFA in cinema-television from USC, receiving the Frank Glicksman Award, the Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme Award, and the James Bridges Directing Scholarship while in attendance. She likes punk rock, whiskey, and the desert. Not necessarily in that order.
MEGAN PETERSON (producer) has been a writer and producer of films, music videos and cable television for over a decade, and has produced over 100 hours of on-air programming for several Discovery networks, Sundance Channel, National Geographic and the Travel Channel. Ms. Peterson’s most recent film endeavors include directing HEATHENS & THIEVES starring Don Swayze and Gwendoline Yeo (scheduled for DVD release winter 2012/2013), as well as producing and helping distribute two thrillers shot in and around Los Angeles: DARK MOUNTAIN and HOUSEKEEPING, both currently in post-production. The first feature she produced, HIT ME was received well at festivals and distributed, as well as a film she production supervised called LOVE COMES TO THE EXECUTIONER starring Jeremy Renner and Ginnifer Goodwin. Ms. Peterson holds an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television where she was mentored by Robert Zemeckis (FORREST GUMP, CAST AWAY, BACK TO THE FUTURE), and a BA with honors from Stanford University.
PYONGSON YIM (director of photography) As a Los Angeles-based Director Of Photography and Producer, Pyongson Yim works in television, indie films and documentaries. Traversing both America and abroad, she has lensed shows for the Bravo network, Travel Channel, National Geographic, Discovery, Funny Or Die, among many others, two of which took top prizes at the Telly Awards, the Emmys of cable television. Her feature and short narratives have screened and garnered accolades in the festival circuit, including Cannes, Stonybrook, and Temecula. A graduate of USC’s film school, Pyongson is currently working as a DP on a VH1 docu-drama and in pre-production for an upcoming feature.
SAGE HOWARD (Kate) was born and raised in Bozeman, MT. Sage received her B.A. from Lewis and Clark College and her M.F.A in Acting from U.C. Irvine, CA. Sage has been living in Los Angeles for 4 years and has performed lead roles with a number of theater companies including Theater Rhinoceros, Cornerstone, and The Fugitive Kind, which she is a founding member of. Sage has been lead in a few independent feature films including Dead Inside, Making Room and Dark Mountain. Currently she is playing opposite her talented Husband, Andrew Simpson, in Naomi Wallace’s The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek. When not on screen or stage, Sage adventures on foot into the mountains around the country and the world
ANDREW SIMPSON (Paul) has been living and working in Los Angeles for the past ten years. He has performed in numerous plays and short films, and in the past few years has played the lead in several independent feature films (Heathens and Thieves, The Phoenix Project, Dark Mountain). This summer he was cast in Paul Thomas Anderson's film adaptation of Inherent Vice, acting with Joaquin Phoenix. He is currently acting again with his incredibly beautiful and talented wife Sage in the Naomi Wallace play The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.
Andrew was born in Berkeley and lived in England and California, but Whitefish, Montana will always be home. At 17 he moved to New Zealand and joined a Maori tribe. He attended Stanford University, spending time at Oxford along the way.
As soon as I first heard the story of Jacob Waltz and the Lost Dutchman Mine from my producing partner, Tamara Blaich, I was hooked. Two hundred million dollars worth of lost gold, strange disappearances, and an Apache curse? I couldn’t believe it wasn’t already a film. I started reading everything about the Superstition Mountains that I could get my hands on. This included UFO reports of strange lights hovering in the sky above the mountains, conspiracy theory blogs about an intricate web of tunnels running beneath them, new age books that talked about energy vortexes scattered throughout. Tamara is from Arizona and had grown up with the legend, but I became so obsessed with it myself that soon I knew more about the Superstitions than she did. It was very clear to us both that somehow we needed to make a film about this story.
Our take on it went through many iterations—at one point, the film was going to be a kids movie a la GOONIES; at another, a sci-fi thriller along the lines of THE X FILES. And then I realized if we went the found-footage horror/thriller route, we could make it independently on a limited budget. From the moment we started developing the script, I knew that the genre fit perfectly. It enabled us to incorporate all of the seemingly disparate details of the legend and the mountains into a cohesive story, and, being a filmmaker myself, I was able to really connect with the filmmaker characters. In the end, DARK MOUNTAIN needed to be a found footage horror film.
I’ve always been a huge fan of horror movies. I love the feeling of sitting in a dark theater, holding my breath, the hair on the back of my neck standing up, waiting to be scared. My favorite horror films—the ones that scare me the most—are the ones that leave a lot up to the imagination. I don’t need buckets of blood and gore. It’s the things that exist on the edges of the frame, just out of sight, that are truly terrifying. In this way, DARK MOUNTAIN follows in the tradition of the iconic found-footage film THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and recent box-office successes like the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise.
Making this film was far from easy, but it’s been incredibly rewarding. In the end, I hope you’ll enjoy DARK MOUNTAIN and become as enthralled with the Lost Dutchman legend as I am. And I hope it scares the pants off you.