Mark Pedri is an expedition-based documentary filmmaker and writer from Southwestern Wyoming where he tells stories from off the beaten path. His character-driven style of storytelling is reminiscent of his equally unique upbringing in Wyoming. Mark founded Burning Torch Productions in 2011 as a nimble production company to focus on character-driven stories from the backcountry and backroads of the world. His films have won awards at international festivals, played on national PBS, and in screening tours around the world. Prior to making films full-time, Mark managed the Episodic Storytelling program at Sundance Institute where he focused on ushering underrepresented artists into the industry by helping them hone their craft and develop their own personal stories. Mark has an MFA in Producing from the University of Southern California and an MA in Communication and Journalism from the University of Wyoming. For his most recent film, "Dear Sirs" he cycled across Germany to retrace the route of his grandfather who was a Prisoner of War in WWII.

Emy Romero: (00:34)
Hello, my name is Emy DiGrappa. Each week we bring you stories asking our guests the question, why? We learn about passion, purpose and the human experience. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation this is, What's Your Why? Today we are talking to Mark Pedri. Mark is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and writer from Southwestern Wyoming. Welcome Mark.

Mark Pedri: (01:24)
Hello, happy to be here. It sounds so much better when you say it.

Emy Romero: (01:29)
I was reading your bio and one of the things I was so interested in that you wrote this is that you define it as a character-driven style of storytelling that is reminiscent of your equally unique upbringing in Wyoming. And I wanted to focus on what is that unique upbringing in Wyoming. Describe that to us.

Mark Pedri: (01:56)
Okay. That sounds like I got caught and I have to explain my bio. So bear with me on this here. Yeah. I feel like trying to communicate as an artist your overall style and approach to what you do. It's always so hard to capture in a bio. So I'm glad it seems like it was getting a little bit close because that is kind of something that I hold really close to who I am. And the work that I do is growing up in a town called Rock Springs, Wyoming in the Southwest corner. And I was born and raised here, it's where my family was from. So we have pretty deep roots here and I'm the youngest of a pretty big family, an Italian family. So we always stuck together, had big family get togethers. If anyone had a family business, everyone worked in that business with the family.

Mark Pedri: (02:53)
So as the youngest person, I was just around a lot of older people, a lot of adults, a lot of old people. And I played accordion in my uncle's band so even more old people there. And I think when you're a young person around old people, especially when you get into some of these ethnic populations, Rock Springs is a big immigrant community, especially from Eastern Europe and places like Italy and those older people, they just know how to talk. They have a way of communicating that as a young kid, you just kind of look up to and say like, wow, I want to be able to talk like that. And it always came back to storytelling and people just getting together at these family get togethers and it wasn't formal. Okay. We're going to tell you a story about where grandma and grandpa came from. It was never anything formal like that. It was always somebody just trying to make the next person laugh, telling about a crazy time that something happened just to kick.

Mark Pedri: (04:00)
And I always just enjoyed listening to that and I really didn't talk much at all until I was basically like 18 years old. So I got pretty good at listening and just enjoyed being around these people and hearing those stories. And so I think as a result, I kind of logged a pretty significant library of just spoken history, folk history. We hung out with all the other Italian families, the Greek families. I would go with my dad when he would roll dice with his friends and I think when you're doing something like this, I mean, no one thinks that their experience is unique and it kind of takes moving out of it to look back and realize that, yeah, there were some things going on there that maybe not a lot of other people had a similar experience.

Mark Pedri: (04:54)
And I guess throughout that, I was developing a love for storytelling I just didn't know it. And I think it was Ira Glass that said it. And he said, "Stories happen to the people that tell them." And I just growing up these stories were always happening around me and eventually I started meeting other people that didn't grow up that way and I would share some of these stories and they would validate me for that because apparently some of them were pretty interesting. And that's when I guess I realized that I enjoyed telling those stories and not just listening to them. And then looking back my dad was a great storyteller. My uncles they could make you laugh at the most insignificant everyday story and I was always is kind of really drawn into that.

Mark Pedri: (05:44)
So I guess that scratches the surface a little bit of the unique upbringing for me personally. I guess anyone that's been to Rock Springs, you kind of also can see that it's just a unique place. It's this high altitude desert, really kind of functions as a city because the closest city is Salt Lake one way, Denver the other, maybe Casper, the other way. So you've got a lot of small rural communities around you that kind of rely on Rock Springs as the city for the area. So to have a city of 20,000 people it's really kind of a unique experience in the way that just the culture develops, puts you in the middle of... Like you go to New York city, you feel like you're in the middle of the universe. And in a sense, it may sound funny but Rock Springs has that similar quality where it's a hub of things that are going on. But I may have gotten off track though so let's circle back. Let's see.

Emy Romero: (06:47)
No, I think that was a great explanation, especially when you talk about how your uncles and your family were always great storytellers and they could just get around together in a living room or a campfire or wherever you were and have a great time just sharing stories and probably laughing at each other. And that is a fun way that you learn about history and culture, isn't it?

Mark Pedri: (07:17)
Oh, yeah. It's incredible. That's one of the things that I've kind of dedicated myself to is trying to make that more of an accepted, formal thing where we even feel like it's our duty to share these stories. And the funny thing is, if you ask them, they wouldn't say that their storytellers, they wouldn't claim to be good at it because it's not something that, like I said, it was never formalized. It was just something we did to pass the time and to get a kick out of. So a lot of what I'm trying to do now is to figure out ways to say that, no, this is important because now we see much less of that. And those are some of like I said, the core memories that I have growing up, and it's how I... It was like my guidebook to the universe. And if you don't have that, then you have to start looking further and further out. Maybe that's a good thing in some cases, maybe that's a bad thing where we don't have that identity of storytelling that helps guide us.

Mark Pedri: (08:28)
The other thing I think that was unique about Rock Springs is that it's a town where you just kind of expect to get a phone call in the middle of the night that somebody's out stuck in the desert, or they broke down or maybe they were hunting and they got an animal that's too big to carry back by themselves. So there's a real like community bond that you feel a duty to that community. And I think as a result there was always this thing of, if somebody called you and asked for help, that just became what you do. There was never an excuse not to help them. And I haven't seen that in a lot of other places that I've went and I think it's just because in Rock Springs you kind of have to, because if you're stuck out in the hills or you need a ride to Salt Lake, an Uber is not going to take you from Rock Springs to Salt Lake, maybe it will, but you're going to pay for it.

Emy Romero: (09:32)

Mark Pedri: (09:33)
And so there was this certain work ethic too, that I think in Rock Springs it's embedded in the people here and it's not a conscious work ethic. It's just, when you grow up in a place like this, you're constantly faced with situations where people ask for a hand or you need a hand and you kind of just develop this different outlook on life where not everything goes to plan. And that's kind of a good thing. When someone makes that phone call late at night it's almost a little bit exciting that like, all right, here we go.

Emy Romero: (10:07)
Right. Here's an adventure.

Mark Pedri: (10:10)
Yeah, exactly.

Emy Romero: (10:11)
I think it's interesting because now that I've been podcasting and I think there is a lot of workshops and things like this, how to tell your story, what questions you should ask to get people to tell their story. And I find that really intriguing when you talked about how in your family it just came very natural and it wasn't like you're telling your story. You are just having a conversation, you're entertaining and inviting others to partake in a good laugh or a great adventure.

Mark Pedri: (10:50)
Yeah, that's actually really interesting because the stories that we shared too were often maybe not this stories that you'd expect to be shared for example, my grandparents, their family had immigrated from Italy and you would think that would be a story worth sharing and hearing about, but like things like this would never get any indication that they were ever anywhere else other than in Rock Springs. But the day-to-day stories seem to be the ones that we shared more. And that's, I guess maybe, I don't know if we want to talk about it now, but a film that I had just finished, that's kind of at the heart of it.

Mark Pedri: (11:30)
Where being surrounded by storytelling and always being so passionate about it, but yet all of a sudden waking up one day and realize that maybe the most important story in my life is one that hasn't been told yet. And that kind of kicked me off on really like a four year journey in order to tell that story, which was the story of my grandfather as a prisoner of war in World War II. So there were a lot of things being shared like you said, but it was more in the spirit of we're here to get together and we might as well enjoy it. So let's kind of riff back and forth.

Emy Romero: (12:10)
Right. And I think that was just a very natural part of being part of a big family and coming together and having those times where that's what you do, that's how you entertain each other. And I do want to learn more about the story you told about your grandfather. I think that is super interesting, but first tell me, when did your parent migrate to the US?

Mark Pedri: (12:36)
So it would've been my grandpa's parents on my dad's side, both his mother and father's parents were immigrants from Northern Italy. And they came in the early 19th century so between 1910 and 1921. And they came for the mining industry in Rock Springs which at the time was dominated by underground coal mining. So that's what brought them to Rock Springs. And then my grandma's parents settled here and then my grandpa, he eventually went to Minnesota with his family and then hopped on a freight train after high school because the work was in Wyoming at the time and not so much in Minnesota. Then he came out here and that's where he lived with some cousins and uncle, and basically lived the rest of his life in Rock Springs as a miner.

Emy Romero: (13:25)
And tell me how this became your life story in terms of becoming a writer and a filmmaker and a director of films. What was that road and journey?

Mark Pedri: (13:39)
Yeah, that's an interesting one. I think I always have a hard time figuring out where that road started. I think we try to be retrospective and understand things clearly, and I'm not sure I could pinpoint exactly when it started, but I think a big catalyst for it was another thing about growing up in Wyoming. I'm sure you know being in Jackson, but the outdoors is pretty much inseparable from your day-to-day life. So you either love it or you hate it and I loved it. I spent as much time as I could mountain biking, skiing, just being outside and exploring. And so it wasn't really a thing when I was growing up, this sport freeride mountain biking, which involves basically just finding a mountain and trying to make your way down it without a trail or anything. There was some people in Canada doing it various other places, I guess, around the world.

Mark Pedri: (14:35)
But one time a year, they would come out with a movie and that movie would be sold in every bike shop across the world, really. And I mean, it was pirated and sold in Russia all the way to Rock Springs, Wyoming. And when I would get my hands on this movie, because there weren't a lot of people, even in Wyoming doing this freeride mountain biking thing, it was like three of us. And it was like the key to what we wanted to do. It was the key to the universe for us. It showed these people doing this thing at the level that was where we wanted to be. And it was almost ceremonial how we would every year get this film and watch it. And then that would kind of define the next year for us and how we would go out and build trails and ride and they weren't even making bikes for this so you'd have to modify your bike based on the movie.

Mark Pedri: (15:30)
So I kind of realized, wow, this is really cool. This whole thing where we're all connected through these movies and these movies aren't very good. They were very like low quality, loud music to just fast riding, no character whatsoever. And I thought, what if we actually cared about the person behind this? And we kind of knew a little bit more about their life other than how they modified their bike in order to go down this hill. So then that's when I started just messing around with the camera and every time we'd go out, I was trying to do what they were doing in their movies, but take it like a little bit further and maybe get to the bottom of why we're out here. Who are we, because it's a little bit of a weird activity to just go down a hill with no trail and most of the times it would end in failure.

Mark Pedri: (16:19)
So there was always a question of like is this [inaudible 00:16:23]? Is this a thrill? Why exactly are we doing this? So that's when I made my first documentary that was essentially try to answer this question that I had, which was what draws us to this lifestyle? This thing that so many people around the globe are connected by. That's not driven by marketing, that's really undiscovered to the mainstream.

Mark Pedri: (16:48)
So the first film was just, I have a really deep question I want to answer and I guess film was the way of exploring that question. And it also happened to be something I was passionate and connected to, which seems to be a theme throughout the other projects I do too. But I mean, I think even to this day I think the biggest thing when you're taking on a project is you could ask how do you pick your project? But I think the answer it's simple the project picks you. A problem arises that you just can't move past and that keeps you up at night or that just allows you to kind of pursue it with a level of obsession. That I think filmmaking requires just because it's a pretty demanding. Well, maybe not demanding. I don't know how to explain it.

Mark Pedri: (17:46)
Like when you're doing it, it doesn't feel like it's that difficult, but then four years go by and you realize that maybe there was a lot of other things in life that you didn't do during those four years, because you were so focused on this one thing. So I think in order to get into that mindset, you definitely have to have that original hook of something that won't let you turn away.

Emy Romero: (18:08)
And when you started doing these films, that became actually your passion is filmmaking from just that first experience?

Mark Pedri: (18:16)

Emy Romero: (18:17)
And then I was reading that you were at the Sundance Institute?

Mark Pedri: (18:22)
Yeah. So I guess a couple of years went by in between as soon as I made that first cut and saw how music can be so transformative and how if you add in a voiceover, you can say something and show something else and create something that's completely different than any other form. And writing was always a huge part of my life as well. So taking that writing and combining it with these other tools was just really mind blowing for me. And I was obsessed with watching the films and showing them so every year in Rock Springs, we would have a world premier of the latest mountain bike documentary. And that went on for all through high school into college until finally you get to this point where you either continue on the path or you have to make a decision of, there may be a more clear path, but if you're going to get on it, you better go on it now.

Mark Pedri: (19:16)
And for me, that was in college where you have to decide, okay, you're going to pick a major, you're going to get a job. You have to like pursue a life here. And I guess I was in one of those zones where I was kind of in the middle of a project and it didn't even seem like a choice. I just had to continue the filmmaking route. So there was definitely a period of life where you're not able to pay for your life, doing the thing that you're going to spend your life doing. And that's I think a period that most writers and artists go through. Honestly, most of them never get through that up period and that's fine. A lot of people dedicate their life to their work and they earn a wage doing something totally different. And I think that's almost more commendable than finally breaking through and making all your money with art.

Mark Pedri: (20:05)
But anyway, side note, I spent a lot of time doing side jobs. Like I said, I was still playing in my uncle's band. That was kind of a weekend gig. I was working for my grandfather in his mobile home park, doing odd jobs. As you're doing this, you kind of develop, I think some of the most useful skills which are kind of pursuing the thing that you want to do, regardless of if it's convenient. So you work all day and if you're tired, you're going to be tired but if the thing is still begging you to do it, then you end up staying up all night and you're even more tired the next day, but you don't regret it because you were able to do the thing that you wanted to do last night.

Mark Pedri: (20:46)
And I think that skill where you get in the habit of placing this priority over this thing that you feel is really important, whether it's a film or something that you're writing, that's been the main skill that I think any artist would probably say, yeah. If you're approaching it from the nine to five, for one you're lucky, but for two, sometimes the deepest moments of that process or what yield kind of the magic and that's the stuff that you look back on and you're like, "Man, I don't think I could ever do that again."

Mark Pedri: (21:21)
But you trust in the process and you find yourself there again at whatever hour in the morning or night and something really cool comes out of that. So I wouldn't have that unless I was forced to do some of that stuff early on, like take those side jobs. So to answer your question about Sundance, eventually I moved out of Rock Springs and I went to Chicago for a little bit and I was still pursuing filmmaking at that point. But there was always this pull of kind of like a larger industry. And I think in Wyoming I really had no connection to that, especially Rock Springs at the time. I mean, the idea of working in the film industry it just wasn't even really a job so it wasn't on my radar.

Mark Pedri: (22:08)
But as I got older and went places, you started to realize, wow, there is an industry here. And I went to Los Angeles and that's when I was kind of a little bit overwhelmed with just how robust, how many jobs, how many paths there are in this world. Because I always thought, okay, there's one path. You go out and you make a movie, you're a filmmaker. And to see that no, there's jobs that you can... Like we met with our first landlord out there and his job was renting hollow refrigerators to film sets because when you take out the compressor and everything the fridge is really light. So there's an industry for fake fridges in LA.

Mark Pedri: (22:51)
So I eventually got a job at Sundance Institute because I think that was the closest thing I had to some familiarity growing up just outside of Park City, it was a place that as a teenager you'd go down and try to sneak into movies and whatnot. And they still had their reputation of Sundance is like, okay, I know let's try to pursue like the next big thing if we're talking about path on your journey, Sundance seemed like a pretty good thing to shoot for. So I met some really great people there. Worked my way up from intern and it was a really great experience. I think I met still some of the best people in my career either still work there or we crossed paths while we were there. A lot of great people who worked there are young like myself as like an intern or something. And then what was really cool was to see them go off in different directions.

Mark Pedri: (23:48)
But I stayed on a lot longer than most of the people I met during my internship and the longer I stayed it became what it was, which was an office job. And that was kind of the thing that I was the worst at doing. I'd never had an office job so these types of tasks more of like an executive role where you're listening to people pitch their projects as opposed to being on the other side where you're pitching something.

Mark Pedri: (24:17)
That got harder and harder and I think the people kept me there longer than maybe I should have because I really liked who I was working with. But the longer I stayed there, I just stopped shooting films. And it kind of became like a stagnant period where I'd been making a film every single year and then four years went by and I didn't make anything. I kind of got hit in the face with my next project, which ultimately was a great thing, but that was the thing that I needed to be confronted with. Like I said, that problem, that thing that keeps you up at night to get me off that track.

Mark Pedri: (24:55)
So we parted ways. I still do some work on the side with them, but I left the full-time position about four years ago now I think, and went back into filmmaking full time. And it was one of the hardest things I had to do because you're on this very clear path that's validated by society, by the industry, by financial security. But at the same time, you were on this crazy path for a reason. So as soon as you lose that reason it didn't feel like it mattered that I was even on that good track anymore. So that's when I had to make the decision to go back into independent filmmaking.

Emy Romero: (25:42)
That's really interesting. It's almost like you went for that job security and it was a good place for you at that time, but then you realized it wasn't feeding your passion and your soul the way you needed. And so you had to take a giant jump out of that place where it's like part you can say, no, don't do that. You know, you have no job security. And the other part of you says, I have to do that.

Mark Pedri: (26:17)
Yeah. You don't know how you're going to... Like even talking to friends and family, you have the same conversation a million times and it just comes down to that same thing. It's like, well, what do you want to do? But what do you have to do? And I think at Sundance it was particularly hard because you're around such inspiring people. I mean, you're getting to work with some of the world's most incredible artists, people coming up, people that have been established for so long. But for me, I was working with them in a capacity that I wanted to be them more than I wanted to be myself in that position. And I think that was the sign that okay, you're not doing the right thing if you want... When you have a meeting with someone you just wish that you were on the other side of the desk and that's probably one of the most useful things that I think you ever learn, because until you learn that, then you're always thinking, well, maybe I should do this.

Mark Pedri: (27:15)
Maybe I should go back and pursue that advanced degree to get the job or this promotion or something, or maybe the flip side where some people are out there thinking that they want to be making stuff, but the grind is wearing them down and they would be actually in a better position to help other people make stuff, which at Sundance that's basically the Institute is set up to do that. It's to find people and enable them to tell their story and help them. So for me, I guess I just found myself on the wrong side of it.

Emy Romero: (27:49)
Right. You were sitting on the wrong side of the desk, like you said.

Mark Pedri: (27:54)
Yeah. The desk that you tried so hard to get to.

Emy Romero: (27:56)

Mark Pedri: (27:56)
But you don't know that until you try it.

Emy Romero: (27:58)
Right. Oh, my gosh. Well, that's a good life lesson for everyone. The other thing I wanted to ask you, tell me about your latest film, because that's quite a... It seemed to me a real high point for you because you brought together your storytelling and your filmmaking together in a really beautiful historical way. So tell us about your latest film.

Mark Pedri: (28:28)
Yeah. So my latest film it's called Dear Sirs and the title comes from I found a letter in my grandfather's house to the United States government and it started off Dear Sirs. And then what followed was him describing his story as a prisoner of war in World War II, who was captured on the French-German border and then marched to a number of different camps across Germany, kind of as the allies pushed further into Germany and liberated cities he was being transported to different camps. And it was a story that he had never spoken about. I mean, I'd spent the majority of my childhood working for him in his mobile home park. I mean every single day he would pick me up at my house at nine, we would go work all day. Then he would make me go practice accordion and then I'd come back over and we would eat dinner.

Mark Pedri: (29:24)
So he was really a close person you know. You'd think that maybe I'm the way I am because of this person who influenced me so much. And then one day when you find out that maybe you actually didn't know anything about them or you didn't know the most significant thing in their life that really throws you into a tizzy. And I think that's when I was referring to, I was working at Sundance and maybe I'd stayed there past when I was still being productive. And then I got a slap in the face and this story was that slap in the face. It was discovering that this person that I thought I knew so well had never opened up about this experience. That became a sense the problem, if you will, of filmmaking. Like, okay, what's the problem? What are we trying to answer here?

Mark Pedri: (30:20)
And for me, it was trying to answer this question of who was this person. And you know if you don't know who they were, then how do you know who you're because you base so much of who you are on them. So I was at Sundance, I found this archive of photos and letters and documents that my grandpa had essentially just put into a drawer and never mentioned. And then he had passed away about 10 years prior so he wasn't around to ask about them anymore. And I just kept coming back to these documents just in a way that was, in looking back, so obvious that I had to explore this further. I mean, I would stay up just looking at the handwriting and comparing different words. And then going down the rabbit hole of putting together the details.

Mark Pedri: (31:14)
And my wife Carrie McCarthy, she was working as a chemist at the time. And I guess that we should definitely mention her because she has a huge part in this journey. We made the decision together that because I'd been throwing around the idea of getting back into documentary filmmaking full-time, she was working as a professional researcher so she had a lot of the qualifications. She also wanted to change her life up and pursue filmmaking more seriously. She'd done some consulting as a scientist, but we'd never really embarked on a project together. And that's when we made the decision, she said, "Well, you know what if I produce it and you direct it? And we move into your grandfather's house and like set up home base there and go for it?" So we did and it was really scary because like I said, we were both on a pretty clear path with a lot of clear milestones towards a good life.

Mark Pedri: (32:23)
We were living in Los Angeles. We were both working for reputable institutions. She was at USC, I was at Sundance and then we quit everything and moved to Rock Springs into this old house that had been abandoned for 10 years. That was really exciting. But I think if it hadn't been so exciting, we probably wouldn't have done it because maybe the fear of failure would've been greater. But like I said, we were so tunnel vision of just this story felt so important. And I think you could say that, well, sure, there's tons of World War II stories and there's always going to be one that's worse or more impactful or somebody went through something more traumatic. But for me that wasn't the point, it was this is your story and it's in a drawer that it's probably going to end up at a garage sale or something. So that's on you.

Mark Pedri: (33:26)
And I really kind of took that to heart and it was maybe selfishly, I just had to tell this story. And then as we were on this journey, it ended up taking four years. We realized that it was such a common theme of people having a similar experience, especially relating to World War II, where it's just a side of their family history that they were never able to really access. So it's been quite the journey. To summarize it, we moved into his house, started to put together the pieces of what he went through as a prisoner of war and then the clues kind of dried up, but there were still pieces that we were missing. So we decided to go to France and Germany and retrace his route on bikes in kind of a last chance effort to fill in some of these final gaps in the story. But then to also create a version of his story that exists now and not just learn about him, but put it into a documentary that's digestible for someone else to watch and really kind of join on that journey that we went on.

Emy Romero: (34:40)
What was the reaction from the family as you were learning and discovering things about your grandfather?

Mark Pedri: (34:49)
That was a really good, interesting part of the journey because early on everyone was just so supportive of it because it was their dad, their grandfather, we all shared this bond with this person of he really was the centerpiece of our family and everyone had bits and pieces of this story, but nobody had the full picture and it was every turn of every corner we went around was just like, wow, I can't believe he never mentioned this. That was always the reaction. But then looking back, we kind of realized that like out of all the people that would tell stories, it was never my grandpa. He was always the quiet one. He would ask how you were doing or something or make like wise cracks, but he never partook in that culture of telling stories and making jabs at people and things like that.

Mark Pedri: (35:42)
So they were just as interested as us. I think they thought maybe we were a little bit crazy to go as far as we did, but the great thing is we had their trust and we told them it was going to take a year. And then another year went by and then we went to Germany and another year went by. And I think at a certain point I had this thought, I was like, what if they think that we're not actually making a movie? What if they think that this is just my excuse for not wanting to go out and get the nine to five job, but they never questioned us. They never had that. That was just one of those late night ideas that come into your mind.

Emy Romero: (36:21)
Yeah. Mark's just on vacation.

Mark Pedri: (36:24)
Yeah, exactly. He went to Germany to have a nice calm bike across the country in the middle of winter. But I think they saw maybe how invested in telling this story I was, and then ultimately when we showed them the film, I think it was really powerful experience. We had two screenings and I think after the first screening, it was a lot to take in because they were learning, they were meeting this person for the first time in a way that took me four years of really a lot of thought, a lot of throwing things out and trying to make sense of it. And they had that four years of what I went through compressed into 90 minutes. I think it was a lot. No one said anything, but people were definitely quieter after the first screening than the second. And then after the second one, that's when we started having a lot more conversations and people saying that they liked the film and asking more details about stuff that we experienced on the journey.

Emy Romero: (37:29)
I encourage everyone to see this and I can't wait till you... I know you've done screenings, but where will it be showing next do you think?

Mark Pedri: (37:41)
That's the funny thing about filmmaking you're never just one thing. You go from making it to now you have to distribute it and have events and you're an event planner now. And we're kind of moving into that stage where we're working with a lot of local organizations around Wyoming to have a screening tour. Hopefully starting as early as May. We worked with the American Legion in Rock Springs and we had a couple of great screenings here so we're basically trying to replicate that all over the state. So if you live in Wyoming and you're within a two hour drive of five various places around the state, Lander, Jackson, Casper, Gillette, we're hoping to cover most of the state, if you're willing to drive about an hour and a half you'll be able to find a screening in the next six months.

Mark Pedri: (38:34)
Other than that, we're doing a lot of virtual screenings too. And those are people that can't leave their house or something like that, because there's definitely the older generation, the World War II generation who we're targeting with the film who we want to reach with it. So we're doing some virtual screenings. We have one in partnership with AARP coming up in February and that's free to anyone that wants to watch it. So that could actually be a great opportunity if someone wants to catch it outside of the live event.

Emy Romero: (39:07)
Will they find that on your website? How do they find it?

Mark Pedri: (39:10)
Yeah, we'll post about it on our website so it's We have a section called Screenings and we're just getting ready to update that with all of the spring and summer screenings coming up and yeah, we have a lot of travel coming up. So the Wyoming thing, we're going back to Germany in April to essentially re-retrace his route but this time we're taking the film and showing it at all the places that were significant to his journey. So we'll be there in April doing that and then back in Wyoming this summer.

Emy Romero: (39:47)
Well, I think it is a story that isn't just a Wyoming story, even though you were born and raised in Wyoming and that's where your grandfather lived and died. His story is a World War II veteran story. And like you said, those stories are probably a lot more common than people think because they just never talked about them and there was no way or a place or a time maybe that he would want to have that conversation with you.

Mark Pedri: (40:20)
Yeah. I think that's a really good point. I mean sometimes the most meaningful conversations are the ones that are the hardest to have. And I think this is a great example where maybe we never would've been able to have it. I think going into this, my goal was to get as close to this story as I could. And there was always this feeling of why didn't I ask him, why didn't I do more? And then I think eventually I came to the realization that I don't think... First of all, I was too young so even if he would've opened up and told me every detail in the best story format I don't think I would've been capable of being on the receiving end of that in a way that was as meaningful as I was able to get to with the film.

Mark Pedri: (41:09)
So I think the lesson there is, it's never too late even when you think that, oh, the person's gone, there's no way we can connect with them. There's no way we can hear their story. Maybe this is the only way you ever could have and maybe this is a closer version than they would've been able to tell. But the thing you mentioned about it not just being a Wyoming story, I think that's interesting too, because when I set out to start to make this film, it felt like I said a little bit selfish. I just had to learn about this person. And normally when I make a film, I try to have some universality, some theme that you're exploring that maybe is useful to other people, but this one, I just never... It was purely I had to tell this person's story, but then in being so specific and focusing so much on the Wyoming aspect, the Italian American family aspect, this relationship that I had with him, that's where the universality came out completely unknowingly.

Mark Pedri: (42:13)
And then after we had had a couple screenings that's when people started to say, you know, they would come up after the screening some people not even really able to speak, because it was such an emotional experience and they would just say, I get it. And they would walk off and to have somebody respond that authentically and directly to something that you thought was unrelatable I think that's when you know that you've somehow accessed, maybe something that is universal to the human experience. And the veteran experience of going to war we are not a military family. This is my grandfather, he was the only one to serve and he really left every bit of that behind. So now going into veteran families and veteran communities, I really felt like an outsider at first because you know who am I to talk about this?

Mark Pedri: (43:13)
And it's just been really interesting to see that we're all the same you know, we all have the same experiences and there's these universal stories that hold us together. And I think an event like World War II, that was so massive that impacted so many people, the details they are all going to be different, but there's this common experience that we all share. And I think that's what one of the goals of the film is it's to try to get people to create a place where they can talk about this and have those hard conversations. And maybe it's not while their grandfather's alive, but maybe it's after similar to how we did it.

Emy Romero: (43:54)
Well, the other thing that I take away from your relationship with your grandfather is that that was his past and that wasn't his future and you were his future. And so he got you playing the accordion and doing something he loved. And so I think that is interesting that he was keeping himself in the moment.

Mark Pedri: (44:19)
Yeah. It's funny to think back, you know like now everyone's... We always talk about mindfulness and being in the moment and all this stuff, but like some of these old timers they were the most mindful. Like he would sit on the porch and one of his favorite things, he would just listen to the wind and talk about being present and those things like that. And I didn't know that at the time, you kind of just think that like, oh, that's just grandpa being old or something, but really there's a lot of wisdom and stuff that until we learn it ourselves, I think we deny that it exists. So maybe we don't have to do it that way. Maybe we can, well, look a little closer the first time.

Emy Romero: (45:03)
Well, it sounds like he taught you some very good everlasting things, Mark and maybe you didn't know this one, but what you did have of him was really a day-to-day life that he wanted you to live and that's all good.

Mark Pedri: (45:26)
Yeah. That's a good point and I think it kind of comes back to the everything builds to everything else. You can't pull out any one piece and think that it didn't matter similar to like you're talking about in your podcast, when people go on journeys, I think often we point to things that we think were meaningful and they are, but I think everything we could point to literally every step along the way and find out how that was such a crucial piece in how you got here. And I think sometimes the ones that we don't point to those are the more important ones, the things that feel insignificant at the time, or maybe you don't even notice happened but that's what makes it fun to have these conversations and to hear other people have them too. So you can... There's no one way, there's no clear path and if there was, then I don't know that any of us would really want to be on it because at that point what are we even doing?

Emy Romero: (46:31)
All right. We'll talk soon. Thanks again.

Mark Pedri: (46:37)
All right. Thanks. See you.

Emy Romero: (46:38)
Bye. Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why? Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities with support from Wyoming Community Foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more go to Subscribe and never miss a show.