Morgan Vanetti felt intimidated as she watched the trailer for the 307 Film Festival. The Natrona County High School senior had learned a month earlier that a short documentary film she’d created at school had been accepted into the festival.
When the trailer played, she nervously watched the other entries, some of which had effects she couldn’t produce. But when her film flashed across the screen, she couldn’t help but smile.
“That one’s mine!” she thought.
She watched the trailer with her film teacher, Lance Madzey. He congratulated her for making it into an independent film festival that will feature professional and amateur filmmakers from around the world.
“It also made me super excited that I created a good enough documentary to be a part of this,” Vanetti recalled.
The festival’s organizers, Nid Collins and Jacob Edwards, started the event to inspire Wyoming filmmakers like Vanette and provide them with an opportunity to network with other artists. The 307 Film Festival, which is set for Saturday at Studio City in Laramie, features more than eight hours of Wyoming, American and international films.
The new festival emphasizes Wyoming films while taking works from around the world, Collins said. Audiences can take in 22 short films and two feature-length films, including the headliner, “In This Gray Place,” directed by Wyoming-native R.D. Womack II.
The organizers started the new festival to fill a void left when the Wyoming Short Film Contest ended in 2016. They plan to grow the festival into a multi-day event.
“What I really love about it is the international people and the national people get to hear that Wyoming exists and there are people making films,” Collins said. “So they can get to know us as we get to know them, and it spreads out from there.”
Months of filming and editing went into Vanetti’s short documentary about Casper musician Mario Feraud, who worked with her jazz band to help spread a passion for jazz in the community. She’s excited to view it on the big screen and learn from the other filmmakers, she said.
“I think it will be good to get to know people who are also interested in what I’m doing,” she added. “I know in the kind of business I want to go into, it’s good to have connections.”
A few NCHS students entered the festival, and one of Vanetti’s two entries made the cut, Madzey said. He almost teared up when she told him she’d been invited to the festival.
“I did tear up a little bit after we watched the trailer, because it has the film in it now with the other films,” Madzey said. “Just having her flick in there juxtaposed against the other films, and you can see the quality from hers and the quality from the other ones.”
The Mario Feraud documentary started as Vanetti’s first news story last fall for the school’s news network, NCTV. She was new to making news stories, so it turned into more of a documentary, she said.
She learned to edit the film into a news story, but she saved and shot new footage to create the documentary she later entered in the festival. Vanetti spent hours reviewing and editing the video and sound, like adding smooth transitions of scenes from her interview, performances and class interactions. She carefully layered volumes so audiences can hear the background music but also understand Feraud speaking.
She’s especially pleased with how her visual transitions paired with his interviews and talks with the class.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t really thinking of how all those shots can match what he was saying,” she said. “And then in the end, it just all came together.”
Vanetti didn’t know what she wanted to do after high school until she took her first film class last year. She plans to attend Central Wyoming Community College’s film school on scholarship and pursue a career in the field.
“I’m just really glad that I took this class, because I was really struggling with what I was going to do in the future and who I wanted to be,” Vanetti said. “Taking this class answered it for me right away, because I immediately found my passion for this.”
Her entry in the 307 Film Festival is an example of her hard work and skill, Madzey said.
“The film Morgan did was super sharp,” he said. “We learn about the inside of somebody’s soul in the Mario Feraud documentary. And that’s the purpose, I think, of any good documentary is to learn about the human condition—and it did that.”
Award-winning film creator and Wyoming native Rudi Womack wishes an event like the 307 Film Festival had existed when he was growing up in Cheyenne.
“I kind of felt like I was a man on an island,” Womack said. “I didn’t really have a big filmmaking community.”
The director, writer and editor plans to travel from Los Angeles for the festival screening his new feature-length film, “In This Gray Place,” starring voice actor Phil LaMarr, Emmy Award-winner Nick Moss and social media star Marcus Johns, according to information from the organizers.
“This is the first time I get to show a movie in my home state,” Womack said. “That’s such a huge thing for me, and I’m very excited to do it.”
Womack’s day job is cutting movie trailers for Disney, Lionsgate and Marvel, and his awards including a Gold CLIO for his work on “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”
“In This Gray Place” tells the story of “a robbery gone wrong,” according to the film blurb. “Aaron barricades himself in a rest stop bathroom. Surrounded by police and battling hallucinations, he must stall long enough to devise a plan and hide the jewels.”
Womack’s advice to filmmakers in Wyoming is to network with as many people as possible. If you look at credits for almost any movie, you’ll see it takes a community of like-minded people to create a film, he said.
“That’s why a film festival is such a great community, because you get to meet other filmmakers,” he added.
Filmmakers also can create quality films with few resources. “In This Gray Place” was shot with three people on set, compared with the small army of most productions, Womack said.
“For us, it was literally just looking at what we did have and then framing a movie around that,” he said.
People often look at bigger budget films, including bigger-budget indie films, and become discouraged about their lack of resources and money, Womack said.
Especially in Wyoming where the film community is small and resources are scarce, he encourages filmmakers to use what’s available. There also are advantages to shooting in Wyoming, where someone can just grab a camera and go film without all the permits and taxes needed in a place like Los Angeles, he added.
Womack shot his first feature film, “Call of the Wolf,” in the Medicine Bow range outside Laramie. Festival organizer Collins heard about the film and contacted Womack.
Collins is impressed with the organizers’ work to connect filmmakers around the state.
“Just the fact he’s doing so much outreach, he’s really trying to drum up support for the festival and not just through the press and financially, but thought the filmmaking community in Wyoming,” Womack said.
Building community, creating connections
The 307 Film Festival is expected to fill a void left by the demise of the Wyoming Short Film Contest.
The annual contest was run by the Wyoming Film Office until it dissolved in 2015. The event lasted another year under the Wyoming Tourism Board before finally closing. The contest drew thousands of people to celebrate film and for a chance at the $25,000 grand prize.
People enjoyed voting and commenting on the films as they mingled and networked, Collins said.
“I really thought what the state needs is, if we can’t run that contest again, let’s have a film festival for the state,” Collins said.
To launch the new festival, the organizers received a sponsorship from Toyota of Laramie, support from Albany County Tourism Board and help from staff members at the Studio City movie theater at the UW Plaza, Collins said.
In addition to Womack’s film, the festival will screen the feature-length “Isolani” by Scottish film director R Paul Wilson, who’s allowing the organizers to show the film for free, Collins said. The film was featured at the Raindance, which is the UK equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival, Collins said.
Collins knows the casting director for the film – an example of how he drew on his connections from the local community to filmmakers around the world to organize the 307 Film Festival.
The event will also feature work from filmmakers in Wyoming and around the world, including New Zealand and Ecuador.
Collins himself directed one of the films, “The Method,” with cinematographer Jaime Cruz of Casper. They filmed it just outside Laramie with actor Phil Kelley, host of the 307 Film Festival. Festival co-organizer Edwards created the sound for the film.
He wants to see more Wyomingites create narrative films with scripts and actors, which seem to have become rarer since Wyoming Short Film Contest ended, he said.
“Let’s get those narrative films back out there,” Collins said. “People used to make them, but they all kind of disappeared. We’re going to bring them back out in the open and give people a platform to display their films.”
Gathering the best films from around the state and adding national and international entries gives Wyoming filmmakers incentive and inspiration, he added.
“It raises the standard of film making in Wyoming,” Collins said.
The 307 Film Festival is starting small, but organizers want it to become a larger, annual events that can attract more filmmakers and enthusiasts as well as boost the local economy, Edwards said. They eventually plan to offer cash prizes.
It’s a way to encourage filmmakers and give them exposure that could help them connect for projects and even be recognized by news companies and studios, Edwards said.
“In the end run, we’re going to have the premier place where all the best talent in the state is getting together and they’re celebrating and competing against each other, and people can attend and watch their works,” Edwards said. “We want to keep those peoples’ spirits alive.”