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Sheridan County Travel and Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker, right, speaks about the “Death in the Mountains” film during the world premiere at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. Pictured, from left, are WYO Film Festival Director Justin Stroup, SCTT videographer Jeff Shanor and SCTT video producer Max Brown.

It was almost a year ago when the team that works to put on the WYO Film Festival met to discuss how we might have to adjust our plans in light of the new pandemic that was starting to cause closures all over the world.

Like most people, I think our best guess was that there was no way that this was the start of a world-changing crisis, and it would certainly be over long before the festival at the beginning of October. We’d continue as planned.

A month or so later, as events started canceling in the community and as the lockdown started, we were still fighting to hold on to what our expectations for the future were as a team.

“There’s no way this can go on for very long. Certainly, it will be back to normal by rodeo!”

I remember saying that to one of our local business sponsors that partner with us on the festival. Again, I wasn’t capable of understanding (or was just in outright denial) of the reality that was right in front of us all.

A year later, vaccines have started to be distributed and millions of people have died around the world from COVID-19, with over 430,000 Americans dying from the virus. With all that has changed in the world and with the sheer number of lives lost and the incalculable impact on those folks’ family and friends…sometimes I catch myself still fighting with reality, wanting instead to pretend that these challenges are not still ever-present.

It’s extremely difficult to fully accept this reality when we know so well that our plans for this future were nothing like what we’re currently seeing around us every day. How do we plan for our future when we can’t fully understand what our present is?

So, as a team, we again find ourselves in the position of planning for a large in-person event with no idea what reality will look like in October. At least we’ve done this before, right?

We are looking at some very exciting ideas for the film festival this fall whether we’re able to fully gather in person, or if we're still limited due to the pandemic. Our goal is to not only continue to show some of the best new movies that you’ve never heard of (and will absolutely love), bring in filmmakers for Q&As, artist residencies with local classrooms and showcase our fantastic town for those traveling to Sheridan, but to also come up with exciting events and experiences that you won’t be able to get anywhere else.

We’re eight months away and nobody knows what the future of the world will look like, but I’m confident that the 2021 WYO Film Festival (Oct 1-3) is something to mark on your calendars today. Hold on to your hats, this is going to be something special.

If you’d like to help with, or be a part of the 2021 WYO Film Festival, feel free to reach out to me at justin@wyofilmfest.org.

See you at the movies.

Justin Stroup is executive director of the WYO Film Festival. 

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