As directed by Robert Redford, The Milagro Beanfield War is a diverting account of how little guys join forces to fight big-bucks interests. Though this is a life-and-death issue for land conservationists, Redford handles it with a light touch. In his Milagro, land rights are not a matter for the social agenda but an occasion for prayer and fiesta.

The little guy is Joe Mondragon (Chick Vennera), a one-time farmer and handyman looking for work on the resort complex planned by a developer ironically named Ladd Devine. Joe would farm except that Devine owns the water rights to the river running adjacent to his land.

Thus Joe can’t irrigate – and he can’t work construction since Devine’s goons won’t hire him. Frustrated and powerless, Joe kicks a drainpipe near his property – and is surprised to see water sluicing onto his parched land. In defiance of the law, Joe uses that water to irrigate the pinto beans he plants.

Joe’s action immediately polarizes the community of hardscrabble farmers who look to Devine for jobs. Yet some of Milagro’s citizens, particularly the spunky auto mechanic Ruby Archuleta (Sonia Braga), are thrilled that Joe is standing up for his rights. But for those who haven’t read the novel, these rights are obscure. Joe’s people have farmed that parcel of land since

Hispanic pioneers settled New Mexico – well before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth – though subsequent treaties and arrangements have forced his forebears to relinquish their water rights….for more review click here.

For a clip click here.

For more on Acequia culture in the Southwest click here.  

Land rights and acequia culture in Milagro Bean Field War (1988)