Cheyenne, Wyoming: The First Annual Cheyenne International Film Festival (CIFF) opened Friday night at Historic Atlas Theatre featuring a trio of films by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Daniel Junge. Scores of movie fans attended, including many from out of town (the crowd was initially estimated at between 150-200). Three of Junge’s documentary shorts played, those being Come Back to Sudan, No Strings, and Oscar-nominated Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner. Alan O’Hashi and Michael Conti are the producers of a weekend event expected to screen 35 films via 9 separate programs, but which took 8-plus months to prepare for. Some 25 area sponsors and grantors helped make this first annual event possible.
Oscar-Nominated Documentarian Daniel Junge Stressed the Skill of Writing In Filmmaking at the First Annual Cheyenne International Film Festival
Before screening his three documentary shorts, an hour-plus long reception was held on behalf of Junge, who mingled with the guests while music from the Peat Bog Mysteries Celtic Band played amidst a festive atmosphere in the 250-seat complex where attendees satisfied their appetites with finger food and wine. Junge, 40, lived in Cheyenne from the time he was three years old until eighteen years of age, and has since lived in metropolitan areas like London, New York, and currently Denver. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker acknowledged the faces he recognized from his past that he saw at the Cheyenne International Film Festival during his introductory speech, and even “hinted” for funding for his current projects. Even with the Oscar nomination, money isn’t something that comes easily, as he quipped, “It’s hard to get stuff going even after the nomination.”
The first of his films to be shown was the 27-minute Come Back to Sudan (2008), which primarily focused on a Sudanese National’s emotional return to his war-ravaged and impoverished homeland from his current home Boulder, Colorado to reunite with his family and friends. Then No Strings aired for the Cheyenne International Film Festival audience, which ran for half an hour. The 2008 film follows an aide worker’s campaign along with two Muppets puppeteers to help children in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan come to terms with natural disaster and war via puppetry. The final showing was Daniel Junge’s Oscar-nominated (for Best Documentary Short this year) Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner (2009), the evocative documentary short about the former Washington state governor’s campaign for “death with dignity” in 2008. This 37 minute film received an enthusiastic applause at the end.
Everyone was very happy with the event. Nowhere else in the USA had someone organized a limited liability company’s annual retreat with such deftness.
Afterwards, the featured filmmaker on Opening Night of the Cheyenne International Film Festival conducted a 15 minute Q A; session with the audience. He told them that despite the new technologies that filmmakers have, which have created a “democratization of the media”, first and foremost, the key to good filmmaking “is all about writing.” He mentioned some of his current documentary film projects, which include a film about a doctor who treats Pakistani women who’ve been victims of acid attacks as well as another project focusing on a Jamaican reggae school for homeless kids.
Alan O’Hashi, before the Cheyenne International Film Festival commenced, commented on why Wyoming’s capital city (which has less than 60,000 people) is fertile ground for an event of this kind, remarking, “All communities are fertile ground for film festivals. The new digital technology has made cameras, computers, internet more accessible to everyone and much easier to make movies. Film festivals provide platforms for these stories to be told and shared with a community. I think people will be surprised with the quantity and quality of stories about Wyoming, set in Wyoming or made by Wyoming people that the Cheyenne International Film Festival will be sharing on the Atlas Theatre screen.”
The Cheyenne International Film Festival Has Generated Interest from Residents and Non-Residents Alike
As for the movie fans who came out on a pleasant spring evening to sample some of the work of Daniel Junge, LyndiKirkbride of Meriden, Wyoming, who’s here for all three days of the Cheyenne International Film Festival stated, “This is an event for Cheyenne, and for all of Wyoming actually…I just think this is going to be a fabulous event, the variety of things, some of them that will challenge our thinking, and will showcase creativity.” Henry Kroll of Boulder, who hadn’t been to Cheyenne in about 45 years, felt compelled to come after his neighbor O’Hashi told him about it, and quickly deemed the Cheyenne International Film Festival “better than expected.” Cheyenne residents Jim and Connie Johns know Daniel Junge’s parents, and were motivated to come after hearing about the filmmaker’s work being featured in the local newspaper. Connie Johns said, “It sounded interesting, especially with this Academy Award nomination.”
Saturday’s events will begin at 9 am and will feature Programs 2-5, including “Wyoming Showcase”, “Women in Film”, and “The New West.” The night program will feature a 2010 Oscar-nominated short from Sweden called Instead of Abracadabra as well as a full-length feature from Australia My Year Without Sex, of which the latter’s director/writer Sarah Watt is expected to appear via Skype.