- Associated Press - Friday, April 10, 2015

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - When Raul Gutierrez watches the sun set over the Teton Mountain Range he feels blessed to live in a valley filled with beauty.

But while Gutierrez still enjoys Jackson’s scenery, he lost his high opinion of its community last summer when he read a July 16 Jackson News & Guide article documenting Jackson’s housing crisis and stories of homelessness.

Gutierrez was astonished to learn of workers who took refuge at the run-down Western Motel or of Nelson Lee’s struggles to find a home. He was on the brink of tears when he read about his friend Gerson Giron.

Like hundreds of people who call the town home, Giron was homeless last summer. While others camped up Curtis Canyon or crashed on couches, he slept in his SUV.

“We attribute homelessness to people with mental illness and addiction but never to someone who has a job and responsible lifestyle,” Gutierrez said.

Giron, who works full time at Dali’s Jewelry, never struck Gutierrez as the type of person who would end up living in his car. As Gutierrez learned more about the housing crisis and how it has displaced longtime Jackson residents, he felt the need to do something.

“I didn’t know how to reach out to Gerson or the community, but filmmaking was on my mind,” he said.

Gutierrez - who has worked as a sound engineer and production manager for MTV and Univision - decided to film Giron’s story to make people aware of the housing crisis.

After receiving permission from Giron and running the idea by the Community Resource Center he shot hours of footage for his first film, “Postcards from Paradise.”

“Postcards from Paradise” shows Jackson Hole’s beauty. It’s a counterpoint to the ugliness of the housing shortage and drives home why Giron has made sacrifices to stay. Though homeless for a time he now lives in a house.

A short documentary with shots of Giron’s experience of five months of homelessness, “Postcards from Paradise” was submitted March 30 to the Wyoming Short Film Contest.

The 14-minute film starts with a shot of Giron driving to Grand Teton National Park. A scene of the Teton Range follows as the film’s title is spread across the screen.

Gutierrez wanted to introduce people to the magnificence of the valley before identifying the problem.

As the movie continues, the camera follows Giron at work and out and about practicing photography, his favorite pastime.

“I wanted the audience to be a witness to a day in your life,” Gutierrez said to his friend after Giron watched “Postcards from Paradise” for the first time. “I wanted to show you working and the end of your day.”

Shot in natural light with no rehearsed interviews, the documentary is designed to show both the beautiful and ugly sides of Jackson.

Teton County Commissioner Smokey Rhea and Amy Brooks, a case manager for the Community Resource Center, explain the unpleasantness of Jackson’s housing shortage in the documentary.

Brooks said she feels Gutierrez’s film is the perfect way to give the crisis a face and to make it about people rather than statistics.

“A lot of people have no idea this goes on here,” she said. “We were seeing so many people coming in with housing problems last summer.”

Giron, who is able to articulate his situation in a thoughtful yet emotional way, represents the hundreds of employed workers who struggled to find places to live last summer.

Most scenes of him living and sleeping in his car were shot with GoPro cameras hanging at different angles.

“I wanted to be a fly on the wall with the GoPros,” Gutierrez said. “I didn’t want to be in the car shooting footage.”

Giron, who now lives in a house, agrees that Gutierrez’s approach is the best way to show what his life was like last summer.

As he watched “Postcards from Paradise” Giron nitpicked his own appearance.

“Look at my hair,” he said after he watched himself wake up from the cocoon of pillows and blankets in the back of his car.

After Giron viewed his experience on film he and Gutierrez reminisced about shared moments that took place during the filming process.

Giron talked of how Gutierrez asked him to jump from the Kelly Cliffs three times so he could shoot the scene at different angles. They also laughed about the time an interview was interrupted because a woman approached Giron, accusing him of being a bad salesman.

With so many memories captured on camera, Gutierrez wants to turn his short film into a 45-minute documentary.

“I know this happens in mountain communities all over the country,” Gutierrez said. “It’s not just here. I would love to show the longer documentary in other places outside of Jackson.”

Gutierrez believes that once his vision for “Postcards from Paradise” is achieved, people will be able to identify with the documentary’s title. Though Jackson is plagued with a housing shortage he said, the town remains some people’s version of Shangri-la.

Giron, who is from Texas, agrees.

“If I lived in Texas and something similar was going on there I would have packed up and moved,” Giron said. “Jackson is so beautiful and inspires me to take pictures. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

When people watch the short version of “Postcards from Paradise,” Gutierrez hopes they get a taste of the title’s meaning.

“I thought about Gerson and how his parents don’t live here,” Gutierrez said. “They live back in Dallas, but they’ve been to Jackson and they know it’s paradise for Gerson. When Gerson tells them about his life he is sending postcards from paradise.”

The Wyoming Short Film Contest’s voting round ends April 15. Anyone can vote by visiting the website. Once the voting round ends a panel of judges will critique the top 10 films to select a winner.

The winner of the contest will be announced May 1. If Gutierrez wins, he says, he will use the $25,000 prize to make the longer version of “Postcards from Paradise.”


Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, https://www.jhnewsandguide.com

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