For 10 years I spent nearly every day with my grandpa, Silvio Pedri. He was my hero, and I never thanked him for the time he spent with me, teaching me about life and the finer points of mobile home park maintenance, among other things. This is a story about meeting the man who had the greatest impact on my life.
He was also a hero to many other people for another reason. During WWII he was captured by the German Army, and survived over five months as a Prisoner of War (POW). Despite spending so much time with my grandfather growing up, he never talked about his experience as a POW. It was a side of him that I never had the opportunity to meet. Then, I found the archive.
In November of 2017, Carrie and I were in town visiting family. We needed a place to sleep, so we decided to stay at my grandpa’s house that had been vacant since his death nine years prior. Late one night, I found an archive of documents and photos in his office detailing his horrifying journey as an American POW during World War II. I stayed up the entire night pouring over the documents, looking at the photos of this person who I thought I knew so well. It turns out, I actually knew very little.
In November of 1944, Sgt Silvio J. Pedri of the 95th Infantry was sent on a mission to cross the Moselle river just north of Metz, France. His objective was clear: secure the opposite bank and create a diversion so that a larger unit could build a bridge to bring in the heavy artillery and take the city of Metz from the German army. Sgt Pedri had trained for over two years for this moment, detailing every step of the way in letters to his fiancé in Rock Springs, Wyoming. However, no amount of training could have prepared him for what happened over the course of those few days. After losing most of his closest friends in a grueling battle against the Germans and mother nature, Sgt Pedri was taken prisoner. His letters home went silent, and the rest of the war became a test of his will to survive. He was marched and transported in sealed train cars to a variety of different POW and work camps where he was subjected to forced labor during the winter of 1944-45. The conditions took a toll on his body that he would feel every day for the rest of his life. Sgt Pedri was liberated by Welsh Guards on April 28, 1945 from Marlag XC near Bremen, Germany.
Carrie McCarthy, PhD is a scientist turned producer who got her start working as a scientific film consultant before going on to earn a PhD in Materials Chemistry from the University of Southern California. During her time in academia, Carrie was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to fund her research, which has been published in several peer-reviewed journals and presented at conferences worldwide. Under the shingle of Burning Torch Productions, Carrie and Mark develop and produce documentaries, feature-length, and episodic content. Carrie is a hands-on producer who believes that being on the ground in the trenches is the only way to ensure the integrity of the project. She is driven by her endless curiosity to hunt down engaging stories with a unique perspective. She has a critical eye for detail in the true-life stories she develops. Carrie is currently based in Los Angeles, but she spends a lot of time traveling wherever the project takes her.
Mark Pedri is a documentary filmmaker and writer from Southwestern Wyoming. His creative process is reminiscent of his equally unique upbringing in Wyoming. Mark’s journey has been guided by the stories he tells, taking him 700 miles through the back roads of his home state on a bike while making a documentary about energy, to Germany and Turkey telling the origin story of Pilates.
After making documentaries for 10 years, Mark took a full-time position at Sundance Institute in the Episodic department where he focused on helping underrepresented artists hone their craft as writers and develop their own personal stories. Mark holds an MFA in Producing for TV and Film from the University of Southern California and splits his time between Los Angeles and Wyoming, where he is finishing a non-fiction book about a Rock Springs construction dynasty that will be published in early 2019. Between projects, Mark consults for the Sundance Labs.
We are making a documentary film that shows our physical journey through France and Germany while telling my grandfather’s story as a POW during WWII.
After finding the archive, Carrie and I decided that telling my grandpa’s story was a priority. This past June, we left our jobs and drove from Los Angeles back to Wyoming to move into my grandfather’s house. Our goal was to dive into the archive and whatever else he had left behind, in order to put together the pieces of his story. During this time we also started shooting interviews of family members and friends to figure out the extent of what he had shared about his experience during the war.
On January 1st, 2019 Carrie and I will set out across France and Germany on bikes to retrace my grandfather’s steps through WWII as a POW, piecing together an untold story in an effort to understand the man who had such a strong hand in raising me.
On one hand, this film is an homage to my grandfather for the life he lived and the struggle he endured. But it’s also a quest to bridge the gap between two generations.
How does understanding our personal history affect how we live in the present?
This film explores the idea that we long to connect with people from our past in order to make sense of our own experiences. Combining the archive that my grandfather left behind, with the journey of retracing his route, I hope to build a connection that I wasn’t able to make while he was alive.
We hope this film inspires our audience to consider the following question: “What’s at stake if we fail to take the time to understand the human experience of our ancestors?”
Why Bike Across Germany?
Just as the bike once provided the freedom to go past the end of the block when we were growing up, it continues to allow us to go places that would be forbidden in a car. A bike allows you to see the world at a pace that is slow and deliberate, yet still efficient enough to cover long distances. The perspective with which we choose to move through the world influences every aspect of our experience, and we want to share this unique experience with you. This is why we have chosen bikes.
The total amount of money that we need in order to complete the physical journey portion of the film is $12,000. This money will allow us to bring our bikes to Europe, have a roof over our heads each night, and food in our stomachs to keep going each day. Oh! And we’ll be able to fly home with our bikes at the end of it all to complete the film!
We would be over the moon if we exceed our fundraising goal! Here’s how we would apply the extra funds:
- Local Transportation in Europe - We will need to take a train to get from the Frankfurt airport to Metz, France where the ride begins. We will also need to take a train to get from the end-point of the route in Bremen, Germany, back to the Frankfurt airport to fly home.
- Music/Composer for the Film - Music is going to play such an important role in setting the tone of the film. We are working with the incredible composer, James Craft, to create a sound that really brings the film to life.
The intent of our rewards is to give you something unique to show our deep gratitude for your support in helping us embark on this journey. In addition to saying thanks, we want to share our passion for exploring family history, which is why the rewards are designed to help you embark on your own personal journey of discovery.
Here are a few of our favorites, and let us know if you have any questions!
Great news! Any contribution over $25 will earn you access to watch the film online.
Photography Prints - Mark has been making fine art photographs of scenes all over the world for the past 15 years. With inspiration for this project stemming from the pictures in Silvio’s archive, Mark will be capturing many photos during our journey. Whether you’re looking for a unique gift or something to display in your own home, this is an opportunity to receive a deeply personal piece of art with a great story to tell.
Life Story Compass Notebook -This notebook is for anyone who is looking to embark on their own journey of discovery but is unsure of where to start. WE CAN HELP! Based on our research and experience with this project, and with the help of our close friend and very talented designer, Shruti Shankar, we’ve created a notebook to help jumpstart your research process. This guided notebook will provide you with a simple-to-use framework for interviewing, building context of time and place, and structuring a story around your research. This is your entry point to beginning your own journey of connecting with a past generation.
With the holidays just around the corner, the Life Story Compass makes for an excellent gift for kids and adults who would enjoy learning a bit of family history.
Wyoming Mining Artifact -The mine where Silvio worked more than 70 years ago has long since shut down, but some of the mining equipment still remains. Check out these authentic railroad spikes and bolts from the abandoned coal mine in Wyoming where he worked before being drafted to fight in WWII.
Vintage Maps -Throughout our research, we’ve acquired some incredible maps from the Department of Cartographic and Architectural Records at the National Archives. Using archival paper, we’ve created fine art prints of the original maps used in combat by General Patton’s 3rd Army during the Battle of Metz in 1944. Add a frame and display one of these unique pieces of art in your office or den. They also make great gift ideas for map lovers.
We began working on this project just after we found the archive in Silvio’s house last November. Ever since then, we’ve been busy doing the research and development for the film. We’ve collaborated with some very talented researchers at the National Archives and also interviewed several key people from Silvio’s life to begin piecing together his story. While living in Silvio’s house this past summer, we digitizing the entire archive to be used in the film. We also shot 30% of the film, including scenes around the Rock Springs area and interviews with family members.
Moving forward, our timeline is as follows:
- October - December 2018: Pre-production. This includes planning the route and locking down the locations from Silvio’s journey. We’ll also be rounding up and testing bike gear and camera equipment.
- January 1, 2019: We fly from Salt Lake City to Frankfurt to begin the 6-week journey.
- February 14, 2019: We fly home from Frankfurt to Salt Lake City.
- Spring - Summer 2019: Post production. During the editing process, we’ll build the story on screen. We’ll also be working closely with our composer, VFX artist, and colorist to really make the story come alive.
- October 2019: Deliver finished film.
- Fall 2019: Film Festival Run!
Risks and challenges
History and memory are two different versions of the truth that can create some of the most beautiful portraits of the past. But they also often betray each other. When history exists without memory, we begin to lose our personal connection. One feeds the other. This film is about both. It’s about the memories we share to pass on to the next generation, and the memories we hold inside at risk of disappearing when each of our final days come.
One of the biggest struggles that we face is actually being able to find the places that Silvio passed through during his time after becoming a POW. In order to help us understand the nuances of the route, we’ve enlisted the help of the talented WWIII Footsteps Researcher, Joey van Meesen, who is based in The Netherlands.
The process of making a feature-length documentary film is extremely taxing, both emotionally and physically. It isn’t unusual to work over 15 hours per day for months at a time. The road becomes your home and stepping outside your comfort zone becomes a day-to-day occurrence. The only way to truly know if someone is up to the task of making a film is to actually do it, and this is what we’ve done. Together, we have produced two feature-length documentaries that were completed on time within the established budgets. Growing up in Wyoming has taught us the work ethic needed to take a project of this scale from idea through completion. Trust us on this one. We know what it’s like to wake up on Christmas morning and have to go unthaw a frozen waterline before taking part in any of the holiday festivities.
We’ve dug ditches, painted houses, and worked numerous side jobs in order to bring our films from ideas to the screen. Thankfully, we’ve been able to secure the initial funding to get this project off the ground so that we can give our complete focus to this film.
There is no mountain that we aren’t willing to climb in order to tell this story, and we couldn’t more excited to share this journey with you.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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