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‘Hearts on the Gila’ focuses on mothers of children who died in Silver City plane crash

Silver City Sun-News Staff Report
April 18, 2019

A regional tour through New Mexico and western Texas will feature screenings of the upcoming documentary, “Hearts on the Gila” by New Mexico filmmaker David Garcia.

The film explores the tragic deaths of three local teens from southwest New Mexico who died in service to the wilderness they loved, their mother’s journey down the wild river they sought to protect and the struggle to keep the Gila free forever.

Each stop of “Journey Down the Gila: Protecting New Mexico’s Last Wild River” will also feature an update on proposed federal legislation to permanently protect segments of the Gila and San Francisco rivers in southwestern New Mexico through Wild and Scenic designations, as well as a Q&A session with the film’s director.

The film focuses on three mothers, four years after losing their teenage children in a tragic plane crash in 2014, as they embark on a 36-mile boat journey down the Gila River and into the Gila Wilderness. The three mothers also traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congressional leaders and advocate for Wild and Scenic designations for portions of the Gila River.

Their three children — Ella Kirk, 14, Ella Myers, 16, and Sebastian Michael Mahl, 16, avid environmentalists — were studying the effects of a devastating forest fire when their single engine plane went down outside of Silver City.

“Sitting with the parents doing interviews, Ella, Michael and Ella were people in the room. The weight of the parents grief and the sheer excellence that the kids represented in their lives just grabbed ahold of me. They lived in sync with the natural world and had dedicated themselves to its study and protection,” Garcia, the director, said. “I had a vision of filming a journey by the three mothers boating down the roughly 36-mile stretch of the river running through the wilderness and ‘Hearts on the Gila’ was born. The river became allegory for the grief journey and at the same time was the main character in a story about these three women coping with unbearable loss.”

The discussion portion of each stop of the tour will focus on a growing coalition of New Mexicans who are urging Congressional leaders to introduce legislation that would protect approximately 450 miles of the Gila and San Francisco rivers and their tributaries through Wild and Scenic designations.

“Journey Down the Gila: Protecting New Mexico’s Last Wild River” is co-sponsored by Heart of the Gila, the Center for Biological Diversity, and New Mexico Wild. The tour will make six stops in the region this spring, including:

7 p.m. Friday, April 26 at El Paso Community Foundation, 333 N. Oregon St.
4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27 at Mesilla Valley Film Society at the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla, 2469 Calle de Guadalupe
7 p.m. Sunday, April 28 at The Silco Theater in Silver City, 311 N. Bullard St.
7 p.m. Thursday, May 2, at The Guild Cinema in Albuquerque, 3405 Central Ave. NE
7 p.m. Friday, May 3 at The Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, 238 Ledoux St.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4 at Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, 1050 Old Pecos Trail.

To learn more about the film and to purchase tickets, visit

This article originally appeared in the Silver City Sun-News.