Friday, May 21, 2010

Local film fest features local filmmaker

Until tonight, I'd never been to a film festival.

"Film festival" means Sundance or Tribeca or -- even further afield -- Cannes or Berlin.

But not Cheyenne, Wyoming, as in Cheyenne International Film Festival.

They said it couldn't be done -- but they did it. Alan O'Hashi, a Wyoming guy now in Colorado (like so many Wyoming creatives) and his partner, Michael Conti, got the jones for putting on a filmfest in Cheyenne. They started last fall with Shoot-Out Cheyenne, a 24-hour hometown filmmaking marathon. And then turned their attention on putting together CIFF.

This weekend, all the films will be shown in the Historic Atlas Theatre in downtown Cheyenne. It used to be a movie theatre -- when Hector was a pup. Now it serves as the venue for the summer melodrama and several seasonal plays offered by Cheyenne Little Theatre Players. There is no movie screen or digital projectors. The dressing room for theatrical players is located down some rickety stairs into a spooky basement. You have to be Rube Goldberg to make the lights and sound effective.

Turns out, it's a perfect place for a filmfest. Credit to O'Hashi and his crew for rigging a screen and setting up a digital projector and getting the sound to work pretty well. This evening, an almost-full-house watched three films by hometown filmmaker Daniel Junge. Three wonderful documentaries by a guy who made his first video at Cheyenne East High School and last year had a film nominated by an Academy Award in the documentary category.

Daniel's father, Mark, is a long-time journalist and author. The past few years, Mark has been known as the guy on oxygen who rides his bicycle cross-country -- and sends dispatches to the Cheyenne paper. A fine writer. A storyteller. Damn fine progressive, too.

In his post-screening talk, Daniel credited his father and his teachers and his mentors in the filmmaking biz for teaching him how to be a storyteller. That's what it comes down to -- storytelling. Film is a visual method to tell a story.

As I watched Daniel's films, I could follow the arc of the story in "Come Back to Sudan" and "No Strings" and "Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner." I know stories -- I write them. I could see why "Last Campaign" was an Oscar nominee. Conflict. Tension. Great characters. Mystery. I was, literally, at the edge of my seat. And I wasn't disappointed.

Film festivals are sprouting up all over. Technology has allowed young filmmakers and newbies with a cause to join the fray. Said Daniel: "Democratization of video allowed schmucks like me to make films."

And even younger filmmakers are jumping in. "Kids have a visual literacy that's out of this world," said Daniel. "I think it comes through their umbilical cords."

Daniel said that he'd like to continue making films, although it would be nice to be able to support his family. He has four films in various stages of development. One is set in Pakistan and follows a Pakistani doctor in London returning to his country to treat women who have been victims of acid attacks by their husbands. He's researching a reggae-based school for the homeless in Jamaica and the medical marijuana issue in Colorado. He's also looking into the case of an Iraq War veteran in Southern California who murdered his girlfriend.

Not all ideas turn into films. But Daniel says that he's been pretty lucky that most of his subjects have become finished films.

Lucky for him. Lucky for us.

The Cheyenne International Film Festival continues at the Atlas Theatre through Sunday evening, May 23.


Alan O'Hashi said...

Hey Michael - Thanks for your support and coverage. There's been a steady crowd all day Saturday. We just finished the Oscar nominated "Instead of Abracadabra" from Sweden and now watching "My Year Without Sex". We'll be joining Director Sarah Watt on Skype from Australia.

Tomorrow there are still tix available for all the programs that begin at 9am and end with a closing night reception. Come see "On the Trail: Jack Kerouac in Cheyenne" featuring John Cassady - son of beat icons Neal and Carolyn Cassady - in person!
go to

Michael Shay said...

Alan: Great job on the festival. I'll be there tonight to see your Kerouac fil.