SHERIDAN — When directors Rachael Waxler and EmaLee Arroyo came across the Miss Snake Charmer pageant in West Texas, they felt the story needed to be told. More than the mind-boggling subject of the documentary, the two co-directors needed to explain to the diverse worlds they lived in that people have more in common than what meets the eye.
Both Waxler and Arroyo grew up in Texas before moving to where most aspiring directors relocate — Los Angeles. The Texas natives were met with stereotypes on the West Coast.
“[They] have these preconceived notions about everybody riding horses and killing rattlesnakes, which is very West Texas but wasn’t the experience we had (growing up),” Waxler said, who grew up in Austin, Texas.
Waxler said they also dealt with the political stereotype of coming from a “red state” into a state filled with more liberal-leaning individuals. The two then made it their mission to bring people together through the unique topic they were covering.
“For us, it was just an opportunity to show everybody that people are more alike than they are different,” Waxler said. “And you might think that you don’t have anything in common with West Texans who are skinning rattlesnakes and stuff, but at the heart of it everybody has these same hopes and dreams.”
That deeper meaning lies beneath a pit of rattlesnakes, though, and could only be experienced by those willing to watch a feared animal on a large screen at the inaugural Sheridan WYO Film Festival. Festival director Justin Stroup sought out the film and reached out to the co-directors through Twitter. After watching the production, Stroup knew it would connect with a Sheridan audience.
“The people (in the documentary) reminded me of the people in Sheridan in a lot of ways,” Stroup said. “They’re really down to earth people and their events, even though there aren’t any rattlesnakes at our Sheridan WYO Rodeo, the feel of the weeklong community event (is similar).”
For those terrified of rattlesnakes, the movie certainly has moments of rattlesnake shots, but Stroup said the movie focuses more on the young ladies participating in the pageant and their transitions into adulthood.
“It’s really a movie about these young women that are doing this beauty pageant and you get to see these great moments,” Stroup said. “These young women are on the cusp of adulthood, and you see the fluctuation of adult reactions to things, teenage reactions to things. Just to see those moments captured tells a lot about that time in their lives.”
The storyline follows the young women through their participation in the off-kilter pageant in West Texas. Through the documentary, viewers were able to see how personalities develop through the transition of teenager to adult. The people outside of contestants filling the screen also struck a sense of familiarity within Stroup.
“I think we’ll see ourselves in some of the people in the documentary,” Stroup said.
The film showed at Sheridan’s film festival last weekend, but the directors are still submitting the film to festivals throughout the nation. The schedule for upcoming showings will be featured on the documentary’s website.
Their biggest goal, though, is to have viewers connect with others around them.
“People are genuinely kind and nice, and we’re not that different,” Waxler said.