A new documentary called “Dear Sirs” tells the story of Wyoming filmmaker Mark Pedri as he retraces the steps of his grandfather Silvio’s journey through World War II as a prisoner of war. Pedri grew up in Rock Springs, where he spent nearly every day with his grandfather for 10 years of his early life—but Silvio never spoke about his time in captivity during the war.
KHOL film critic Jeff Counts interviewed Pedri and the producer of the film, Carrie McCarthy, ahead of a screening of “Dear Sirs” at the Center for the Arts in Jackson on Wednesday, June 22. The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
JEFF COUNTS/KHOL: Carrie and Mark, thanks for joining me on ‘On Set’ today.
MARK PEDRI: Hey, we’re excited to be here.
CARRIE McCARTHY: Yeah, thanks for having us.
KHOL: We’re talking about your film, “Dear Sirs,” and Mark, let me start with you: I know that when you discovered this trove of documents and photos and other material that your grandfather left behind about his time in the war, it’s clear from this film that you saw a story that had to be told. But as a film viewer, I wondered if you wondered, with all of the glut of World War II content out there, both in film and on television, were you concerned about being able to find anything new to say in that world? And what did your story give you as new material?
PEDRI: Yeah, that’s a question we asked ourselves many times is, you know, ‘Is there room in this genre or this storyscape for another World War II story?’ And I think what we finally landed on was we hadn’t seen such a personal story told where it’s, you know, following one very specific perspective through the entire experience of a prisoner of war from being drafted to, you know, first combat [and] being captured through liberation. And I think that’s when the story really came alive was [when we said], ‘What if we just decided to focus on the smallest moments of this gigantic world event?’ And I think that’s ultimately what convinced us that there was room for this, is realizing that all of these small stories—there’s actually so few of those. All of the stories that we see, they’re actually the big moments of World War II. And as a result, we kind of overshadow the more personal ones.
KHOL: The word ‘personal’ that you just used, I think, is really important with this film because you make a comment during the film, Mark, about how [in] the relationship with your grandfather, bicycles were an important part of that. And I won’t give that away, but it’s clear for anyone seeing this film that the two of you chose to ride bikes along the path he traveled through Europe. You chose to retrace his progress on bicycles. Carrie, I wondered, was it important that retracing those steps be difficult? Did it need to hurt a little bit for this to be as meaningful to you guys as an exploration?
McCARTHY: So, the bikes weren’t a way for us to sort of feel what Mark’s grandfather was feeling. That wasn’t the motivation. The motivation was more a directorial choice of trying to immerse ourselves in the world at a slow enough pace, such that we can spend time at the different locations—if we needed to be nimble and spend a few days here or hurry up and go a little bit faster or slower. And then we ended up doing it in the winter again, not to feel the experience as much as it was to convey the tone of what it would have been like when Mark’s grandfather was actually going on his journey. So, we wanted the picture to match the tone of the story and what was actually happening.
KHOL: The two of you have traveled the world, I’m sure. You’ve been all over, but there’s something very clear about identifying with Wyoming in this film. What do the two of you hope the people of this state—people like me who live here—will take away from Silvio’s legacy and his service?
McCARTHY: Mark and I both grew up here in Wyoming, and so we have deep roots here. And I think for me, what I would like people in Wyoming to take from this is to see a Wyoming story, not just a World War II story, but it’s also our story [and] Mark’s family story, elevated and put within such a global conflict and a global event. And [I want people] to see that Wyoming stories are a part of big history, and they deserve to be told and they deserve to be elevated. And in that same line, Wyoming storytellers, I hope this inspires Wyoming storytellers to keep telling Wyoming stories, or if you want to be a Wyoming storyteller, go for it.
PEDRI: I want to add a tiny bit to that, because I think Wyoming is not what people think it is. I think this film is a reminder of, you know, the ethnic diversity of people coming from all over the world here. And I think the film kind of embodies the spirit of Wyoming, which is, you know, people getting captured by an idea and following through with it, but also the community getting behind them and not really knowing how to finish, but knowing that it’s important enough to start. Our community in Rock Springs rallied around us financially, morally, you know, followed us on social media. And they emphasized that what we were doing was important. And I think you absolutely need that on a project like this.
KHOL: So, Carrie, as a last word, tell everybody in Jackson where they can see “Dear Sirs.”
McCARTHY: Sure. We’re going to be showing it Wednesday, June 22, at the Center for the Arts at 6:30 p.m., and we’ll be following that with a light reception and a Q&A moderated by Steve Peck from Wyoming PBS.
KHOL: Carrie and Mark, thank you so much for being a part of On Set. It’s been great to talk to you today.
McCARTHY: Thank you so much.
PEDRI: Alright, Jeff, thanks a lot. Looking forward to being in Jackson.