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The AFI came into being in 1967 thanks to funding from Lyndon B. Johnson's newly created National Endowment for the Arts. AFI's founding director, George Stevens Jr., saw a chance to use federal money not only to study the history and theory of film, but also to fund independent films - and connect with the New Hollywood of the Warren Beattys and Robert Townes that was boisterously emerging from the canyons and flat lands to the east of Greystone. By 1969 Stevens was ready to undertake the school's biggest gamble - the complete funding of a film project chosen from among its fellows' scripts. The film would not simply be a big-budget student movie - the finished product would receive commercial distribution, people would see it in theaters Kaye had once wanted to make a movie about pioneers from the doomed Donner Party, but the story he and Stevens settled on was an allegorical Western concerning a mining enterprise on the frontier - though not any frontier that John Ford fans would have recognized.
"It was set in the scientific future, it had robots in it," Kaye recalls. "A small group of disenfranchised people in this small town come at night and try to tear apart the mining operation."
Specifically, the disenfranchised were a tribe of Indians who had been forced off their ore-rich land by private speculators who surrounded the mine with a giant red, electrified fence. The story focused on them and a young man who comes West and falls in love with the wife of the mine's overseer. It was inspired by persistent legends, fueled by Southwestern cave petroglyphs, of Aztec gold having been buried in North America.
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