To find Crestone, Colorado, you must take a path less traveled.
Nestled alongside the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east and the Great Sand Dunes to the south, the historic old town is far from any major highway. In the latter half of the 20th Century, it became something of a spiritual destination in the San Luis Valley, with Buddhist and Hindu shrines adding to the landscape of older wooden structures and abandoned dome homes.
It’s where a handful of high school friends-turned-SoundCloud rappers tried to set up a peaceful utopia where they could create music and grow cannabis.
“For someone like me, who's not used to flat land for that long and that open space, it's really, really amazing and alarming at first,” said documentarian Marnie Ellen Hertzler. The little town made an impression on her and the documentary that follows her friends bears the town’s name.
“It's so beautiful out there, and I don't think any place on earth exists like Crestone,” Hertzler said. “Every corner you turn, there's some different religious iconography or people doing something really unique and cool.”
Hertzler’s best friend in high school, Sad Boy, invited her to join his merry band of rappers miles away from where they had originally gone to school in Raleigh, North Carolina. The group attracted other artists she had never met before but soon became a part of the project.
“My friendship with Sad Boy was pretty strong, and we picked up where we left off,” said Hertzler. “Of course, people change and morph into different people as time moves on, especially these guys who are so savvy on social media and the internet to the point where they have to be constantly reinventing who they are to keep up with like TikTok trends and developing their music to keep up with their fans. They were changing all the time and so was I.”
A documentary wasn’t the original plan. The intention was to come out to Crestone and make music videos with her friends before the project evolved. Over eight days of shooting and different phases of editing, a creative feature-length documentary formed.
“I knew I wanted the film to feel like browsing an infinite social media scroll or clicking between tabs on a computer, where you're watching a YouTube video and then you open Instagram, then you move to Twitter,” she said. “I wanted that feel of an endless loop of content. We played a lot with form. We moved from a music video into a really cinematic shot of a sunset into someone's Instagram movie to replicate that experience.”
Although the movie is Hertzler’s, she credits “Crestone” as a collaborative effort.
“I was so nervous about this because I really love them, and I really care about them,” she said. “I wanted them to be happy with the work that they put into the film. I think they're really proud of it. They see it as a time capsule of a really special moment in their lives where they're all together and living really freely. It's a nostalgic piece for them at this point, because they've all dispersed onto different adventures.”
“Crestone” is available to rent through the Sie Center’s Virtual Theater and on VOD platforms.