Mark Pedri found a way to reconnect with his grandfather’s World War II experience through pictures, mementos, stories and the country where it all happened.

Pedri, a documentary filmmaker from Rock Springs, will be presenting the documentary “Dear Sirs” along with producer Carrie McCarthy at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the first of seven screenings in Pedri’s home state after a tour in Germany, where Pedri’s grandfather was a POW. 

The screenings are free and open to the public thanks to a grant from Wyoming Humanities Council and support from Wyoming PBS.

Pedri had never heard his grandfather Silvio’s story despite spending nearly every day together for 10 years. It wasn’t until after Silvio’s death that Mark found an archive of old photos, letters, and documents detailing Silvio’s journey as a POW in World War II. The discovery inspired Mark to bike over 500 miles across Europe, following the original Prisoner of War transportation routes, in an effort to tell his grandfather’s story and better understand the man who helped raise him.

“For me, it was seeing how powerful going to a place can be when trying to connect with someone through their story,” Pedri said via email of his biggest takeaway of the experience. “Each place we went held so much of my grandfather’s story that we weren’t able to access until we were actually there. It’s not only the things that we found written in the local archives or the things that the people told us in the towns, but it was seeing the buildings and seeing the landmarks, being in the place and immersing myself that made me feel closer to his experience.”

Pedri is an expedition-based documentary filmmaker and writer from Rock Springs. Producer Carrie McCarthy, Ph.D., is a scientist turned producer who got her start working as a scientific film consultant while she worked as a materials chemist researcher at the University of Southern California. 

Together they run Burning Torch Productions which is a boutique film production company that focuses on character-driven stories from the backcountry and backroads of the world. Their films have played at international festivals, on national PBS and major streaming platforms.

“The biggest takeaway is the importance of preserving folk history and local stories,” McCarthy said. “There were holes in Silvio’s story that we were only able to fill by going to the places where he had been, talking to local historians, and reading their newspapers and books. On a broader level, it’s so powerful to see how one individual story can hold the essence of a global historical event such as World War II.”

Pedri said that growing up the family knew Silvio was in the war and knew that he had been a prisoner, but he never told them any details about it and anytime family members tried to bring it up he would avoid going any further into the topic. 

“Even when he was around other people who brought up their World War II stories, he always seemed to go quiet when it came to talking about his,” Pedri said. “So even though I felt like I really knew him, this part of his life was a complete mystery.”

When he found more information and decided to bike around Germany to see the locations Silvio had seen, he proposed the project to McCarthy.

“At first, it was a bit overwhelming because there really were a lot of materials that Silvio left behind,” she said. “Then, once we started organizing the materials to form Silvio’s story within the WWII timeline, it was very exciting to keep putting the next piece in place, and the next piece, and the next. 

“When the idea of retracing Silvio‘s route on bikes through Europe came up, we knew we could do it physically (we’re both avid bike riders), but the logistics were another story.”

She said while the cycling aspect was exciting because it was a non-traditional way to tell the story, it also introduced a lot of obstacles, because they were going to be telling the story from the seat of a bike. 

“There was only so much we could plan in advance, so a lot of the producing was done day by day in Germany; planning the next day or two based on weather, how far we were able to bike each day, and how much filming we were able to do,” she said. “Ultimately this allowed us to be nimble throughout the production and take the time we needed in each location and on the road to capture the best visuals to tell the story.”

What the two of them determined was that every story matters, especially the ones that don’t get told in history books, and the ones closest to each of them because these are the stories that they each have the power to tell. 

“As filmmakers, we can only tell so many stories, so by telling this one story we hope that it inspires people who watch the film to explore and tell their own stories,” they said.

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