Jackson Hole International Film Festival
Programmer David Nugent, Founder Stuart Suna, executive director Anne Chaisson courtesy of the Jackson Hole International Film Festival

The first annual Jackson Hole International Film Festival took place earlier this month in the gorgeous ski-town of Jackson, Wyoming — and it owes its existence at least partly to the drive and determination of Silvercup Studios co-founder Stuart Suna.

In 2020, he sold his iconic New York production company — home of The Sopranos, 30 Rock and Sex and the City — and settled into his new home in Jackson, Wyoming. But he missed the world of storytelling, and soon began planning his next adventure: the Jackson Hole International Film Festival.

Suna is also a founding member of the Hamptons International Film Festival, which began 31 years ago and is known for its Screenwriters Lab, summer documentary program, year-round screenings, and Oscar-magnet programming. He envisioned a sister festival in Jackson, where the spirit of the land inspires many local filmmakers. It is also, of course, a popular spot for Hollywood icons to buy vacation homes in the shadow of the Grand Teton mountain range.

“Since I moved here, I thought of giving back to the community, bringing back a great economic generator through art and culture and film during a quiet period,” Suna told MovieMaker.

One difficulty Suna faced was finding a place to hold the screenings, given that Jackson has just one movie theater. Suna ended up choosing the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which has a spacious theater as well as a gorgeous foyer with a bar and restaurant. It provided a perfect place for guests to mingle between screenings — and look through telescopes in search of bald eagles, bighorn sheep, and elk.

“What’s great about this festival is the partnership I’ve created with the Hamptons International Film Festival,” Suna says. “Anne Chaisson, our executive director, and David Nugent, our artistic director, are the ones who really helped put a lot of us together.”

The Jackson Hole International Film Festival Lineup

From the more than 70 films that screened at HIFF in October, Nugent selected eight films to screen at the inaugural Jackson Hole International Film Festival.

They included Jean Shim’s A Great Divide, filmed locally in Jackson; Brendan Walsh’s I’ll Be Right There, a family drama starring The Sopranos‘ Edie Falco; Irene Taylor’s HBO nature documentary Trees and Other Entanglements; and J.A. Bayona’s Netflix historical drama Society of the Snow, about a real-life 1972 plane crash that left an Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the Andes.

Other films in the program were American Fiction, Cord Jefferson’s satirical comedy about Black literature in America starring Jeffrey Wright; Tran Anh Hung’s French period drama The Taste of Things starring Juliette Binoche; Patricia E. Gillespie’s HBO documentary They Called Him Mostly Harmless, about a dead hiker found in the Everglades; and Finn Taylor’s Avenue of the Giants, starring Avatar‘s Stephen Lang as real-life Holocaust survivor Herbert Heller.

“One of the things we do in the Hamptons that we wanted to bring here to Jackson Hole is really have local films, films that are from the local community. A Great Divide is from a woman who lives in Jackson and L.A., and I thought was very good film to really support local filmmakers, and a very powerful story,” Suna says.

Storytelling is at the heart of the festival, adds JHIFF executive director Marni Walsh.

“It’s very important for people everywhere to know everybody else’s story. It just gives people a broader worldview,” she says. “Life is always bigger than us… if you share other people’s stories, it just widens everyone’s horizons.”

Jackson Hole International Film Festival executive director Marni Walsh

Suna contributed money to establish the festival, and members of the festival’s board contributed as well. They include Motley Crüe’s own local Jackson resident, Nikki Sixx, and his wife, Courtney Sixx. Suna also worked with Old Bill’s Fun Run, a marathon organized by The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, which has raised millions of dollars for local philanthropic causes since 1997.

But he’s perhaps most pleased by the camaraderie developed between filmmakers at the screenings, dinners and cocktail parties the festival hosted each night.

“A festival is a great way of building momentum for independent films, and the distributors are looking to be in communities that have a lot of Oscar voters, Academy voters — there are more here than many people really know,” Suna says. “When the festival starts to build momentum, then the distributors want to come to places where you have a sophisticated audience who will appreciate their cutting-edge films.”

Main Image: Artistic director David Nugent, founder Stuart Suna, and Hamptons International Film Festival executive director Anne Chaisson, courtesy of the Jackson Hole International Film Festival.