El Paso filmmakers focus on Asarco stacks

By Aaron Martinez \ El Paso Times

Local filmmakers on Thursday will debut part one of a three-part documentary that chronicles the final years of the Asarco smelter smokestacks.

The film, “Last Tour of the El Paso Smelter,” will be screened at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Scottish Rite Theater, 301 Missouri. A special matinee screening will also be held at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets cost $7, or $6 with a military or any student ID.

“This part of the film is about the physical plant and the history of the smokestacks,” said Jackson Polk, executive producer of the film. “We started filming in 2010 and followed it all the way to the destruction of it this past April.”

The documentary offers a rare glimpse inside the historic smelter, Polk said. In the process of filming the last years of Asarco, the filmmakers from Capstone Productions recorded hundreds of hours of film and thousands of photographs. Two of the main scenes in the film are a two-man climb to the top of the 828-foot-high smokestack and the destruction of the two towers from 12 different angles.

“Our main goals were to capture the physical plant and the history surrounding it, and also to make sure we are contributing to the historic record of this place,” Polk said. “We wanted to make sure that once the smokestacks were destroyed, the important history of this area and the people were not forgotten.”

The second part of the series will be about how the plant was operated. The plan is to follow a piece of ore through the smelting process, Polk said. The third and final part will highlight the human side of the smelter. It will focus on the workers and community members of Smeltertown and how the plant affected them.

“The plan is to show all sides of Asarco and how it affected the workers and the community at large,” Polk said. “This place has played a large role in the history of the city of El Paso. Our goal is to preserve that history and make sure everyone remembers the people that sacrificed so much as they worked and lived there.”

After each screening, a panel discussion will be held about the film, Asarco and the efforts to create the Smeltertown Museum of El Paso. Along with Polk, the panel will feature Ruben Escandon Jr., coordinator for the Smeltertown Museum of El Paso and crew member for the documentary; Roberto Salas, director of the Centro Artistico y Cultural Buena Vista in El Paso; and Monica Perales, author of “Smeltertown: Making and Remembering a Southwest Border Community.”

One of the main goals of the panel is to bring the creation of the museum to the attention of El Pasoans, Escandon said.

“The role Asarco played in the history of this area can’t be understated,” Escandon said. “As the smokestacks were destroyed, we cannot let the memories and history of it die along with it. We hope to create this museum as a tribute to the people that worked and lived there, and to preserve the history and memories of the area.”

A portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the creation of the Smeltertown Museum of El Paso and to aid the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. Prints of photos in the film will also be sold.

“Any city would die for the rich history this area has, and we hope the people of El Paso will come out and help support the building of this museum,” Polk said. “A museum needs to be created so the memories, photos and artifacts are not lost forever.”

As the filmmakers completed their project, they were given an opportunity not only to record the history of the smelter but also to take pieces of the plant with them.

“As we recorded the footage, they gave us permission to take anything there that we wanted since it was all going to be destroyed and thrown away,” Polk said. “So we were able to get some amazing artifacts and now have some great pieces for the museum when it gets built.”

Along with the pieces collected, Escandon is hoping El Pasoans will contribute photos and other documents they may have collected over the years relating to Asarco for the museum.

“We are looking for everything from cash donations to rare pieces of Asarco and Smeltertown history that the people of El Paso may be willing to donation to put on display at the museum,” Escandon said. “We hope they will help us create this museum to keep the history alive and pass it on to the next generation and the generation following them.”

To donate, visit the website smeltertownmuseum.com

Aaron Martinez may be reached at aamartinez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6249. Follow him on Twitter @Amartinez31

Source: http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_23488722/filmmakers-focus-asarco-stacks?source=most_emailed