By Lisa Morgan
According to co-directors, Rich Henrich and Robert Galarza, of this weekend’s AMFM Festival, Viggo Mortensen will receive the fourth annual Dennis Lee Hopper Award at this year’s inaugural event in Cathedral City. Mortensen, an actor, writer, poet and visual artist, will receive the award at a ceremony in Cathedral City. Viggo’s art will also be exhibited at the fest, which will include a screening of the James Kleinert documentary “Wild Horses and Renegades,” in which Mortensen supported and appears.
“Dennis believed that to be an artist, you had to embrace all the arts,” explained Film 4 Change and AMFM Fest co-director Robert Galarza. “Viggo has his photography, painting, writing, poetry and philosophical musings in addition to his acting ability, and he has no great ego as an artist. He allows the art to move through him like a vessel, which is how Dennis saw the world.” The award honors artists who work in a number of fields and also advocate for social change. “We came up in the spirit of the original South by Southwest,” said Henrich, “and we want to create a festival that has established headliners but also a large number of unsigned acts.”
Director James Anaquad Kleinert met Viggo Mortenson while making his documentary, Spirit Riders. They were both on a journey by horseback that retraced the treacherous route that Chief Big Foot took on their fateful journey to Wounded Knee in the middle of winter, in freezing snow and ice. “The making of that film was very profound, as we went into the issues of the genocide that was committed upon American Indians and now, covering the recent cultural revival of native spirituality and reconnection to the horse. Viggo and I have known each other for a long time now. When you’re riding horses across stark great western plains landscapes in the middle of winter, I would say close bonds and deep friendships are made. He has truly been a great champion of American Wild horses. He really lives up to what he says and what he does, and his activism career is quite impressive,” touts James. “When we learned of the Burns Amendment passing, I told him, ‘Well I’ve got all this footage of wild horses in this brutal round up in Wyoming; why don’t we make a short film?’ He immediately agreed, and we did the first short film called Wild Horse Sprit which aired on the Emmy award winning PBS show, Natural Heroes. That was the beginning of it.”
Dennis Hopper had a way of inspiring and encouraging others to excel. He was constantly putting others in a position to look good or encouraging them to grow and pursue their dreams and ambitions. Jason London of The Man in the Moon and Dazed and Confused said of Dennis, “Whenever he talked to the press, instead of talking about himself, he would always talk about my golf swing. He was always helping me look good. Dennis would almost always take time to hold acting classes at some of the acting schools wherever he went. He was grateful to be alive and wanted to give back. That’s what he did. That’s who he was. He was the kind of guy you could immediately feel comfortable around.”
It was Dennis’ blessing on Michael Madsen’s writing that encouraged the actor to continue publishing his poetry. “I like him better than Kerouac: raunchier, more poignant. He’s got street language, images I can relate to, blows my mind with his drifts of gut-wrenching riffs. This actor is a poet and he is cool, of course, he is Michael Madsen.” He also encouraged Madsen in his photography and acting. “Dennis said some tremendous things to me,” shares Madsen. “He referred to acting as ‘a calling’. I don’t know if I can call it that, but Dennis did. One time I told Dennis that I wasn’t comfortable as a movie actor. He asked me, ‘Well, what else would you have done?’ I told him, I probably would have been a carpenter. Dennis said to me, (and here Madsen slips into a perfect impression of the icon) ‘Look what happened to him, man.’ I thought to myself, he’s right! I’ve got nothing to complain about.” He laughed as he reminisced thoughtfully about his old friend.
Dennis Hopper was a constant source of inspiration and giving and dedication to the arts, making this a very special honor indeed.