Don’t Miss: Storytelling for Change

By on March 21, 2018

The Quiet Force, a film capturing the hushed experiences of Latinos in ski towns, holds a fundraiser next week

During a time of uncertainty, young Latino skiers are finding a way to connect with their peers. (Peter Lobozzo)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Donald Trump’s jarring words during his 2016 presidential campaign: “We will build a great wall along the Southern border” set the scene for the trailer of The Quiet Force. You hear the words without any visual aid or context. Then, chants of “Build the wall! Build the wall!” play against an image of snow falling on an American flag. The President’s immigration policies have dehumanized the plight of immigrants and left many unanswered questions. For their upcoming film, Hilary Byrne and Sophie Danison have set out to find answers as they document the experience of Latino residents in mountain communities.

Building Bridges, Missing Bricks

Byrne and Danison live and ski in Jackson. Twenty-five-year-old Danison teaches skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and works as assistant editor at Teton Gravity Research. Byrne, 29, is TGR’s TV editor. Largely absent from the skiing community, they noticed, are Latino/a participants. But Latinos make up 33 percent of Teton County’s population, and, in a tourist economy, are “the backbone of our workforce,” Byrne said.

The duo gleaned inspiration for The Quiet Force from a 2016 Powder magazine article of the same name. Economically, Latino immigrants and workers “punch above numbers,” local economist and Charture Institute founder Jonathan Schechter told Powder. In other words, they contribute a lot. “Our tourism and household-services economies would grind to a halt without our Latino population,” he said.

But culturally, socially, and politically, they are still largely invisible. They are a “quiet” force.

“A lot of people in this town don’t realize there’s this huge population that is the backbone of our workforce,” Byrne said. And even if you see it, “cognitive dissonance is still a thing.” People conveniently ignore and disregard the impact and sheer size of the Latino community. Community members self-segregate beginning from a young age.

But there are spaces where integration is starting to happen, and it’s primarily among young people. Sports, for example, bring students from all ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds together on one team. Soccer is perhaps the most unifying sport, Byrne said. And thanks to the Doug Coombs Foundation, which offers ski lessons and equipment to those who can’t otherwise afford it, skiing is slowly becoming another equalizer.

Danison recalled the words of kids they have interviewed: “Skiing makes me feel alive, feel free, feel happy, feel like I can talk to my classmates. I have something to do on the weekend.”

Indeed, skiing is the cultural epicenter of Jackson. Access to it is a form of cultural capital. But cost alone denies access to many of Jackson’s working-class residents. Skiing with the Doug Coombs Foundation allows Latino kids to find another level of connection with their classmates, Byrne said. “It lets them relate to each other. We’re seeing them integrate in ways they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

“We’d be lying to ourselves to say that this is changing everyone’s lives,” Danison added. “But a handful of lives will change in the long run.”

Personal Not Political

Alejandra Hernandez, 12, of Mammoth Lakes, California.

Though the film’s trailer opens with Trump’s voice, a stark contrast to images of Latino workers just doing their jobs, it is not meant to be political, Danison said. “We’re not trying to take a stance, we’re just trying to tell the truth.”

While The Quiet Force doesn’t intentionally have a political agenda, it’s hard to ignore the political climate in which it is being produced, Byrne said. A few of the film’s subjects are undocumented, or from mixed-status families. And immigration-related arrests have increased during Trump’s presidency.

“They’re seeing their friends and family getting pulled out of this community,” Byrne said of her subjects. Some have become more hesitant to share their stories in the first place, for fear of exposure.

Yes, crossing the border illegally or overstaying a visa is illegal, Byrne and Danison both recognize. “But they would be here documented if they could be,” Danison said. “There’s a lot in their way.”

Whether they are welcome, Latino residents in ski towns have become an essential part of the workforce, and of the community. They can no longer be ignored. “I don’t think [Latino community members] have the platform right now,” Danison said.

She and Byrne hope to use their platform to elevate otherwise quiet voices, and humanize their stories.

“We both got into filmmaking because we believe that storytelling can change the world,” Byrne said. “It can make an incredible social impact.”

Byrne and Danison both worked on Pretty Faces, Lynsey Dyer’s all-female ski film released in 2014. When it comes to genuine representation of women in the snow sports industry, the film was a landmark effort. And it placed the duo on a path to do more.

Kind of by coincidence, and then kind of by design, Danison and Byrne are heading a predominantly female crew for The Quiet Force.

“That’s a big thing in the film industry,” Byrne said.

Indeed, women are only just beginning to receive recognition for their accomplishments in film, compelling some to carve their own spaces.

Lights, Camera, Party

Byrne and Danison hope to release the film this fall. But first, they need to raise more money to finish production. An Indiegogo campaign amassed $15,000, and individual support is huge, but there’s a lot of production left. So the duo is throwing a party at the Stagecoach 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 28. Streetfood is serving up tacos, chips, and salsa for $15 donations, and the Coach will donate a portion of beer sales to the film. Local band Rude Noodle will rock the stage. Proceeds from a raffle and silent auction will go back into film production—Byrne and Danison haven’t paid themselves a dime, they said, but they do have a crew to support.


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