| by Carol Schmidt
Montana State University film professor Cindy Stillwell's film "The First Story" was shown
in the Slamdance Film Festival, an alternative film festival held Jan. 11-19 in Park City, Utah.
The Slamdance Festival, which bills itself as an annual upstart fest, is held in conjunction
with the famed Sundance Film Festival. Together, the two festivals are one of the major
annual media events for American filmmakers.
Stillwell's 11-minute art film, which features images of trains and tractor-trailer trucks
in the large spaces of Montana and Wyoming, was one of 12 shorts and 12 feature films
selected from more than 2,468 films submitted to the Slamdance competition.
"It's very cool and I'm very excited at my selection," said Stillwell, who teaches
cinematography at MSU. She said alternative filmmaking is a difficult field, and rejection
is frequent. Therefore, she was thrilled to learn of her acceptance at a festival where
her film will get a great deal of exposure.
"The two festivals draw the Hollywood circus to town for 10 days as filmmakers, actors,
agents, producers, distributors and everything in-between attempt to promote and hopefully
sell their latest projects," Stillwell said. She said she is pleased to screen at Slamdance
because it provides such good exposure for independent filmmakers, "especially those who do
not live in New York or Los Angeles."
The vision for "The First Story" began in Lander, Wyo. where Stillwell worked on a dude
ranch and in a newspaper darkroom before attending graduate school in film at New York
University. The scale of the land impacted her. She returned to the West more than two years
ago when she joined the faculty at MSU and became intrigued by trains and tractor-trailer
trucks in context with the western landscape.
"Those machines fit differently here (than in other places)." Stillwell juxtaposes images
of freight trains and semi-trucks with sequences of non-human forms common in the West,
including horses, cattle, sheep and grasses.
Stillwell collected her images throughout Wyoming and Montana over the last two years
using a Super 8 camera. She worked with sound designer David Koester, a fellow MSU film
professor, on the sound for the film for two months. She says she knew that she and Koester
would be good collaborators after he said he remembered hearing Bach in the sound of a
chainsaw when he was kid.
Stillwell said she submitted the film to both Park City festivals, but suspected it might
be a better fit with Slamdance, which usually has more of an alternative tone than Sundance.
Several films that have won awards at Slamdance have gone on to national acclaim, including
"Memento" and "Monster's Ball." Last year the winning short, Stillwell's category, was
"Bean Cake," also a winner at Cannes Film Festival.
Carol Schmidt is the university news editor
in MSU Communications Services.