Holly Stadtler of Huntington has made documentaries about wolves, bears and comas for the Discovery Channel. But the producer, who’s owned her own company — Dream Catcher Films — since 1996, takes on a more daunting subject in her new feature Finding Our Voices: the difficulty of dissent in contemporary America.
Finding Our Voices, which has garnered awards at small out-of-state fests such as the West Hollywood International Film Festival, screens in Williston this weekend. Directed by Victoria Hughes and narrated by actor Martin Sheen, it chronicles five years in the lives of several Americans, from war vets to a congressman, who set aside their personal lives to mount an organized opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq.
Stadtler, who executive-produced, writes in an email that the film was inspired by “the footage of Adele Welty, who lost her son at the World Trade Center (an NYC firefighter), . . . protesting with other members of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and getting arrested. These were all senior citizens, shaken and tearful, standing up for what they believed in.”
Disturbed by the way “the voices of dissent were treated as traitors” in the post-9/11 political climate, Stadtler decided to do something with 200 hours of hand-held amateur protest footage shot by Laurel Jensen, a friend of Hughes. The team edited the material, added professionally shot segments and Iraq footage, and enlisted Sheen’s voice, with the help of a co-founder of pacifist group Code Pink “who personally knew Martin’s assistant,” says Stadtler. “She shared the rough cut of the film with him and we pleaded for him to narrate.” After “a tense few weeks dealing with [Sheen’s] agent,” the outspoken actor who starred in Apocalypse Now — and says he himself has been arrested 67 times for protesting — signed on.
While her film depicts turbulent times, Stadtler, 47, says she’s enjoying the quiet life in Huntington, where her family moved in 2006 to escape the pace of life in Washington, D.C. She and her husband are long-time Mad River Glen fans who “became two of the original shareholders because we loved the mountain so much”; their new home is just 16 minutes from the practice slope.
Funding, making and screening Finding Our Voices — which doesn’t yet have a distributor — has “been an incredibly hard road,” Stadtler says. Working on projects for the Discovery Channel or TLC, she was “used to having a broadcaster fund projects and a corporation to promote and distribute. We’ve had to do this without that safety net, which is why it’s taken four-plus years and why we’re in so much debt. But I still believe it was the right thing to do.”