I’m on the planning board for the Go West Film Festival in Greeley, Colorado. Go West is a festival committed to celebrating Western cinema in its many iterations and we just finished up out 3rd year. When we were in the early planning stages of this year’s programming, I was hoping that we could gather together enough films for a package screening of western shorts. I had my dream list put together of the shorts I wanted in the program, but as we began talking to filmmakers, we realized that putting together a package of Western shorts was more difficult than originally proposed.
It was then suggested that I put a short together on my own, as a special treat for festival goers. The head of the festival suggested that I do a Victorian Cut-out Theatre episode all about Oscar Wilde’s trip to Leadville. I adored that idea, but couldn’t figure out how to make the episode humorous without relying on jokes I had already made. Besides, Oscar Wilde is funny enough without me putting my spin on his visit. Therefore, I decided to make a short, animated documentary that showcased his visit to my home state. The first half of the film is me giving historical and cultural context and the second half is Wilde, in his own words, describing his visit. There are some changes I would like to make, but overall I think the film turned out well.
On a more personal note, this subject spoke to me on a level that I didn’t quite expect.
I grew up in a town just like Leadville, surrounded by hardworking miners, workman and cowboys. Unfortunately, I was never particularly interested in hunting, fishing, or sports. I was, however, very interested in Shakespeare, wearing costumes and telling jokes. I spent an inordinate amount of time reading comic books, quoting The Simpsons with my friends and writing plays that would never be performed. My town tolerated this behavior and a few people outright supported it, which lead me to leave my tiny hamlet and study theatre elsewhere in hopes of one day becoming a professional artist. Throughout researching and working on this film, I began to see Wilde’s visit to Leadville as a metaphor for my own 18 years spent in a town whose foremost priority was not the arts.
When you grow up in a small town and you find that you're not like many of the people around you, it takes a strange toll. I was raised in the same house for eighteen years. A house that had been in our family since it was built in the 1920s. My mother used a wood burning stove to cook every meal until we were in middle school and we got a gas stove. Our house contained no insulation, but instead was heated by a coal stoker, the remnants of which still sit in the nooks and crannies of our home. My town is a lot like that house, I graduated with the same tiny class with which I went to kindergarten. We knew each other very well in some cases, and superficially in others. I attended a few homecoming bonfires. I learned my school song and lived across the street from my fifth grade teacher. These things are in my bones and I could never shake them loose even if I wanted to. However, my town was never going to be a hub of arts culture. People there will turn out in droves for school sporting events, but it was a constant struggle to fill our auditorium for theatrical productions. I had to leave.
In going elsewhere, I found others, many others, just like me who loved to read comics and write plays and joke about The Simpsons. But many of these same people had a very different upbringing than I had and our differences become profound when we talk about where we come from. During these discussions, for the briefest of moments, I feel like I don't belong anywhere; That am neither entirely coal dust nor Shakespearian sonnets - a golem occupying a different place. I suppose that's a bit what Wilde felt like, neither entirely welcome in his own land, but also very much apart from the Western landscape of Leadville, Colorado.