People’s Choice winner announced

The people have spoken, and the People’s Choice winner of this year’s Hyart Film Festival is “The Secret Friend,” a short film directed by Brazilian director Flavio Alves.

Matthew Taggart, Jason Zeller, Greg Schueler, Jesse Kiewiet, and Dushan Milinovich cast their votes at the Hyart Film Festival. Photo by David Peck

The story is about an elderly widow, played by veteran actress Viola Harris, who receives a series of prank phone calls where the person calling remains silent on their end of the line. Out of loneliness, the woman begins to look forward to the calls that arrive promptly at 3:30 p.m., every day. Eventually, the calls stop and the woman misses her secret friend so much that she initiates similar calls to a completely different stranger.

“I think people liked the story,” said film festival organizer Jason Zeller. “Everyone either has a grandmother, knows a grandmother, or is a grandmother.”

“I think the acting was very good and I think it made it easy to feel the loneliness the character felt,” added festival organizer Sue Taylor.

The vote was very close with the animated film “Escape of the Gingerbread Man” and the dramatic film “Quirk of Fate” ranking nearly as high as the winner with viewers.

Festival-goers voted after each block of films. The winner was selected based not only on the number of votes received but other factors like the percentage of votes, the overall number of people attending the block, and the number of films showing in the block.

Zeller was surprised by the People’s Choice winner.

“I expected ‘Quirk of Fate’ to win because it was very visual and very well done,” he said. “One of the things that shot ‘Quirk’ in the foot was the fact that it was subtitled, where ‘Secret Friend,’ although submitted from Brazil, was in English.”

Although attendance at the festival was slightly higher than last year, organizers were disappointed that more “locals” didn’t turn out to see the 64 films presented at the festival. Last year around 340 people attended. This year attendance was 367 with a significant number of individuals traveling from areas outside of Big Horn County to attend the films.

“I don’t think people who actually attend the film festival ever give negative feedback,” said Zeller. “Once they actually attend, they love it.”

For the first time, the festival included two theme-oriented blocks—a block geared toward children and a horror block geared toward adults. The children’s session had a much higher turnout than Zeller expected. The horror block also exceeded Zeller’s expectations with a turnout of 49 people. He noted that in some cases the horror block was the only block some individuals attended and that particular block attracted more teens and young adults than other blocks.

“It would be nice to have even more specialty blocks, but we don’t always have enough quality and quantity to fill a block of time,” commented Zeller.

The remainder of the awards will be announced in early September including awards for best drama, animation, comedy, horror, music video, sci-fi, and action. Judges with specialized expertise will rank the films against other films in their same category based on production value and technical aspects.

The cost of the festival was offset by paid sponsorships, ticket sales, filmmaker entry fees, a grant received through the Wyoming Arts Council and literally money out of the pockets of the organizers.

By Patti Carpenter