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'Hashtag Blessed The Movie' can happen ...
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PINETOP-LAKESIDE – Three years ago Martina Webster made herself known to The Mountain when she arrived on scene as the producer and director of the Show Low Film Festival (SLFF).

Barbara Bruce / Courtesy photo  

(From L) Dalea Faulkner, a writer and producer, along with her mother, Martina Webster, are producers of ‘Hashtag Blessed The Movie’.

Her past event experience and connections with the film industry brought a taste of Hollywood to Pinetop-Lakeside. As an experienced movie producer, she is again highlighting the White Mountains with a December filming of “Hashtag Blessed The Movie,” with a little help from her friends, old and new.

As a producer on the nine minute award-winning short film “Evie’s Christmas Gift,” the door opened for Webster to be the producer of “Turnover,” which was shown last year at the SLFF. With the goal of making movies with meaning, and with a love for Christmastime, Webster approached her daughter, Dalea Faulkner, a writer and producer herself, and asked her to write a Christmas movie that would be like a modern-day “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Faulkner was game but told her mother, ‘Let me write what I feel.’ She did and all the things that make Christmas, Christmas are in it. There is love, romance, social media, friendship and even some of the unpleasant things that can accompany the holidays.

This is Webster’s baby from conception to birth and then post production. “It is like having a child,” said Webster, “it stays with you forever.”

She birthed the idea and is carrying it forward but after it is made, like a parent, she will market it at film festivals and abroad to make back the money her investors have put into it. The hope is to bring it to TV or to screen.

Just like writers have deadlines, so do producers. November was going to be the filming month but with everything “topsy-turvy” with COVID-19, the timeline has been moved to December. That means that Webster has from now until the movie team arrives to film to raise $75,000. And how does one do that?

“How do you eat an elephant?” asked Webster, CEO of Dar Mar Productions, LLC. “One bite at a time. It is like the story of “Stone Soup,” where you break it into chunks. Ask 750 people, can you risk a $100? Or, for the cost of a pizza, you can be part of a film.”

Any amount helps, and if you contribute, you will be listed in the credits. As a matter of fact, some of the fundraising promotions Webster and her daughter have done suggest a donation in the name of your favorite person as a Christmas gift.

When it comes time for casting, Webster says they will be looking for locals to be in the movie scenes.

They will also be looking for a big box type store that will lend them the opportunity to use the store as the principal business place where the main character works as an employee.

It will cost a lot more than $75,000 to make the movie, but there are many people who believe in Webster’s dream and love the storyline and want to be in the movie. Some of these people are donating their talents or either paying their own plane fare or are offering things that will be used to make the movie. The list is endless.

Webster has already secured Stephanie McBain as the director of the movie. McBain has written and directed two feature films and was nominated for Best Director at GIFF for her short film, “Embedded.”

Pergrin Jung is the director of photography. Webster said he has done many music videos with stars like Mariah Carey and Justin Timberlake and worked on films which include “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man,” and “Red Shoe Diaries.”

“His eye is beyond the Hallmark look,” said Webster. “He has an eye for lighting. He is in demand and he is doing this for peanuts.”

Christina Brown is the set designer and prop master. She has worked closely with Webster for years.

Joel Christopher Payne, a Disney artist, was seen singing on Facebook. Webster asked him to do a Christmas song for the movie and he did a video with a song and a speech. The team said, “That’s our hipster Santa.” And, he agreed.

Webster said Payne will be an evolved Santa for the times. “He is magical,” she said.

Three songs are already in consideration for the soundtrack for movie. One in particular has Webster’s husband going crazy when he hears it because she says he can’t get it out of his head. It’s called “Candy Canes and Christmas,” sung by Avery Rodgers. It can be heard, along with the other two, at https://www.hashtagblessedthemovie.com.

On Sept. 28 and 29 the production team will arrive on the Mountain with Brown, the set designer, to lock in locations that have been scouted.

Indie movies, that is Independent films, cannot compete with the big studios. They raise money through investors and donors and, according to Webster, federal rules prohibit them from advertising for investors, and they are limited to only 32. They can, however, have as many donors as will contribute. Information on donating or investing is on the webpage.

“This will be a prequel to more movies to be filmed in our lovely Mountain area,” said Webster. Her daughter is in the process of writing a series of fantasy stories placed in reality which have good, old fashioned values and are set in a place called Amber Light Valley.

The race is on for Webster and the finish line says $75,000. Webster is moving ahead in the fast lane focused on that finish line and seeing herself crossing it, making the deadline, and making “Hashtag Blessed The Movie,” with a little help from friends.

Snowflake schools confirm first COVID-19 cases
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SNOWFLAKE/TAYLOR — The Snowflake Unified School District (SUSD) and Navajo County Public Health Officials published a joint press release Friday, Sept. 18, to inform parents, staff and the community of six confirmed COVID-19 cases. Three of the cases were in students and the other three were in school staff.

For updates regarding SUSD, visit www.susd5.org/ and click on Snowflake Return to School Guidelines.

The six cases are within a district that serves more than 2,500 students. Schools within the district include Taylor Elementary, Highland Primary, Snowflake Intermediate Schools, Snowflake Junior High School and Snowflake High School.

Snowflake schools began the new semester with in-person schooling and had been in session for five weeks when the cases surfaced.

“ … staff members and students have stayed home when they have been feeling sick,” stated Snowflake USD superintendent Hollis J. Merrell. “Some of them have chosen to get tested with the majority of them receiving negative tests. We thank them for being proactive and taking seriously the responsibility we each have to help minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

On the county side of things, public health nurses are using contact tracing to track positive cases and trace possible exposures stemming from the confirmed cases. School staff are also making contact tracing calls.

“Contact tracing is crucial in stopping the chain of infection. If you are contacted by a Public Health Nurse, please answer the call and help break the chain of infection,” a Navajo County Public Health press release stated.

Going forward, school staff are also doing contact tracing so members of the community may receive calls from Navajo County Public Health or the school district.

“We are constantly monitoring situations in our schools,” stated superintendent Merrell in the release. “We appreciate those that have kept us informed when they have a student who has symptoms or a family member who has tested positive. The more we know, the better chance we have of limiting the impact on our students and staff.”

County health officials stated that they are “still finding too many people who are going to work even when they don’t feel well” and reminds the public to stay home when feeling sick. The risk of exposure to COVID-19 “remains a concern” despite the downward trend in cases related, in part, to the resumption of in-person instruction in schools as well as businesses reopening.

At this time, there are no changes to the school district’s schedule or in-person classes.

For more information on COVID-19 case in Navajo County, visit https://reports.mysidewalk.com/ebaab58e56

For updates regarding SUSD, visit www.susd5.org/ and click on Snowflake Return to School Guidelines or call your child’s school site. The district office can be reached at 928-536-4156.

Heber Wild Horse management plan still in process
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SPRINGERVILLE — The U.S. Forest Service, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, have been responsible for developing the Heber Wild Horse Territory Management Plan since 2007. That is when the Heber Wild Horses herds became protected under the Wild, Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

Laura Singleton/Staff Writer  

A Heber Wild Horse foal born this April stretches to scratch his flank. 

It’s taken 13 years but a proposed plan has finally been drafted. It has been made available for public comment and is now in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

The final plan is expected to be completed by 2021, according to the ASNF website.

More information:

Access a copy of the original draft plan at: www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/33054_FSPLT3_5229105.pdf

An informative video about how the Heber Wild Horses impact the landscape is available at: youtu.be/WkKzOtJ7ayQ

Also visit the following Forest Service website page: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/asnf/landmanagement/resourcemanagement/?cid=fseprd534229

Apache, Navajo counties retail sales resist pandemic effects
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Sales have held mostly steady in Apache and Navajo Counties, defying the projected impacts of the pandemic and the widespread restrictions the virus inspired.

Sales tax collections in Navajo County for July and August barely declined from the same period a year ago. In Apache County, sales tax collections actually increased.

However, storm clouds continue to gather over the economy — with unemployment stubbornly high, the virus still present and state and federal support for businesses and the unemployed drying up.

But at least for now — the pandemic has taken less of a toll on the region’s economy than initially feared.

For Navajo County, sales tax collection in August hit $709,000, a 9% decline. In July, the $705,000 collected represented a 2% increase over the same period last year before anyone dreamed of a pandemic.

Apache County did even better. The $132,000 collected in August represented a 7% increase and the $140,000 in July represented a 37% increase.

The figures indicated the economy in Apache and Navajo counties bounced back sharply from the low point in April and May, when the stay-at-home order had the biggest impact.

Show Low Economic Development Director Steve North has spent a lot of time working the riddle of the economic impact of the pandemic. He believes that when the shutdown first hit, many people stocked up on necessities at grocery, discount and convenience stores — resulting in a surge in spending.

As the lockdown continued, people started using those federal stimulus checks on home improvement projects, bolstering sales at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, Tractor Supply, CAL Ranch and others.

“Meanwhile, we moved into our peak summer season and have enjoyed unusually high visitor numbers — despite the pandemic. Fewer people are going out of state and international vacations and opting for in-state vacations. They’re vacationing in what they feel is a safer place — rural Arizona.”

Meanwhile, the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths has continued to decline, with both counties now meeting the benchmarks for reopening schools and most businesses. High risk businesses like gyms and bars still have some restrictions on the total number of people served at any one time.

Navajo County, as of Thursday, had just 15 new cases and 3 deaths. That has produced an overall rate of 5,081 cases per 100,000 and 205 deaths. Apache County on Thursday had 7 cases and 1 new death. That works out to a rate of 4,758 cases and 221 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. Both counties went from one of the nation’s hot spots to a rate of new infections below the statewide average last week.

The sales tax figures obtained from the state by the Independent show that Navajo County’s new jail district tax in August generated $460,000, bolstering the county budget just in time to help weather the pandemic.

Some sectors are struggling to regain last year’s totals – at least in Navajo County. Restaurants and bars continue to lag behind last year, but lodging has recovered. Retail as a category is lagging, but not by much. Virtually all sectors have made a comeback since the lifting of the stay-at-home order in May.

Here’s how sales tax collections in key sectors compared in August of this year compared to August of last year in Navajo County.

— Retail: $418,000 this year versus $524,000 in August of last year.

— Restaurants/bars: $49,000 this year vs. $70,000 last year.

— Contracting: $58,000 vs $67,000

— Lodging: $40,000 vs $35,000.

— Amusement: $3,300 vs $5,400.

— Property rental: $15,000 vs $13,000.

— Total Excise tax: $709,000 vs. $775,000.

And here’s how sales in specific categories are shaping up in Apache County this August compared to the same period last year.

— Retail: $72,000 this year vs $79,000 in August of 2019.

— Restaurants/bars: $10,000 vs $9.700

— Contracting: $7,300 vs. $9,100

— Lodging: $7,200 vs. $7,500

— Total Excise tax: $132,000 vs. $123,000

Local economic development officials see a silver lining to the pandemic, the massive shift to telecommuting and the woes of the big cities.

Show Low’s Steve North commented, “I think we are already seeing people relocate from California, the Phoenix Area and Tucson to the White Mountains because more of them are working remotely and see the White Mountains as a safer place to live and work with a better quality of life. I think we have an opportunity now and in the future to attract these remote businesses and small business entrepreneurs to the area as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whiteriver woman assaulted, shot, killed
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WHITERIVER—Details are sketchy about a homicide on August 14 on the White Mountain Apache Tribe land but according to a relative of the deceased’s, a woman was shot, assaulted and a structure was burned. The relative reached out the Independent by email to ask for help “to make it clear to the public that it’s not ok to kill ‘n take a life.”

Whiteriver resident Crystala Manzo’s body was reportedly found along with a second body in a burned structure on Tribal land. Her Facebook page is filled with well wishes from family and friends who are clearly aggrieved by her death. It is unknown if authorities have identified the second body. In a second email, the relative stated that “the person is in tribal custody at the moment for unrelated charges” and that “a special agent from the BIA told me they got a federal warrant for his arrest,” for second degree murder. The relative believes that the Tribal police suspect that there may be others involved who are “on the run,” the relative said.

The Independent spoke with a lieutenant at the White Mountain Tribal Police Department, but he had no comment. Ms. Manzo appears to have left behind minor children and her age is not known.