Serendipity is the watchword of Riders of the Purple Sage – the classic Zane Grey novel of Western adventure that will return to Arizona as, of all things, an opera. If an aspiring dime novelist hadn’t tried to capture the soaring grandeur of the West in words; if a treasured Arizona painter hadn’t wondered how to wrap that grandeur around a human story; or if a restless composer hadn’t discovered the dead novelist’s ephemera while ducking out of a Payson rainstorm, local opera fans would have nothing more in their Christmas stocking than the possibility of watching the nice lady from La Bohème get sick. Yet again.
— Phoenix Magazine

Co-producer of the Riders world premiere and a visionary driver of this project since its inception, Arizona native Kristin Atwell Ford is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker capturing the creation of Riders in a feature-length documentary. 

Riders of the Purple Sage: The Making of a Western Opera follows Zane Grey’s experiences writing his iconic novel and the synthesis of artists coming together a century later to build a multi-dimensional live performance though music, visual arts, and the human voice.

Atwell is no stranger to such synthesis, having grown up with an uncommon immersion in both theatre and wilderness adventures. Between apprenticeships at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, teaching writing at Perry-Mansfield School of Performing Arts, and graduating from Stephens College with a dual degree in English and Women’s Studies, Kristin explored the canyons and rivers of the American Southwest.

After working at Concentric Media in San Francisco for seven years with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman, Kristin produced her first documentary short, Quartzite’s Fall: A Wilderness Tale. The film is narrated by Peter Coyote and screened with the 2001 Best of the Banff Mountain Film World Tour.

After returning to Arizona, the home of so many themes that inspire her work, Kristin became the in-house producer for Quantum Leap Productions. In 2011, Kristin co-directed and wrote the documentary, Theodore Roosevelt Dam: Arizona’s Living Legacy. Narrated by Peter Coyote and produced by Salt River Project, it won the Emmy Award for Best Historical Documentary.

In 2013 Kristin produced the nine-part The Arizona Centennial Series that aired on PBS/KAET. The series welcomed notable guests to recount Arizona’s colorful political history with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Recently Kristin wrote and co-produced a new documentary for SRP about forests, fire, and water. Protecting the Source aired on PBS/KAET and won the 2016 Emmy Award for special environmental program.

Header image by Robert Pflumm, courtesy of Quantum Leap Productions