One of Justin Stroup’s favorite things to do is leave Sheridan. He enjoys traveling and has spent time in abroad. But, he loves coming back to Sheridan, too, because the community represents something special.
Stroup grew up in Sheridan, but left the area for about 15 years before returning to take up residence again about five years ago. He took a job with his family’s business, Wilcox Title Company and quickly dove into volunteer activities in the area.
He has served on the board of the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center for about five years and has been secretary and president of that nonprofit. He’s also part of the Whitney Center for the Arts advisory committee.
His focus, though, has centered on creating and growing a local film festival. The idea came to him when he lived in Maine and attended the Camden International Film Festival that takes place in Camden, Rockport and Rockland, Maine.
“Those little towns remind me of Sheridan,” Stroup said, adding that the setting is intimate and doesn’t include a long roster of A-list celebrities. “People love it; it’s authentic and I thought, ‘This could happen in Sheridan.’”
So Stroup got to work conducting research on how to make an event like that succeed. He recruited sponsors and called in favors. He used social capital and leaned on established relationships to help make the idea come to fruition. The 2018 event marked the first year for what Stroup anticipates will become an annual tradition; it included more than 650 submissions by filmmakers from 55 different countries.
Stroup noted that starting an event like the film festival elsewhere — like Chicago, where he lived years ago — would be infinitely more difficult because gaining traction for a new event is tough.
“I cannot stress enough how supportive Sheridan is as a community,” Stroup said, later adding that most residents in the area are willing to give new ideas a try.
Films resonate with Stroup because they serve as a proxy of sorts for traveling. They allow you to experience different cultures, if only briefly.
Plus, he said, talking about the latest movie you watched proves far better than talking about the weather.
For young professionals considering a move to the area or already here, Stoup recommends a focus on things they like.
“It’s easy to focus on the things Sheridan doesn’t have,” Stroup said. “But there are more opportunities to be revealed and to make happen than in bigger places. If there is something you want Sheridan to have or do, take on the project. Do it.”
For older residents in the community who will begin passing the torch to younger leaders, Stroup encouraged an open mind. The “old guard” raised the leaders emerging in Sheridan, so those newcomers know what worked.
“We paid attention,” Stroup said, later adding, “Trust us. We love Sheridan as much as you do. We want our kids to do different things, too.”