Hoot in the Hole Premiere

December 10, 2008 6:08 pm Published by

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Stepping Out Jackson Hole News & Guide, Wednesday December 10, 2008

Hoot documentary to premiere tonight


By John Byrne Cooke

When Juliet Sonnenberg was working in the wine shop at Dornan’s in Moose back in the late 1990’s, she enjoyed Monday evenings for the music of the Jackson Hole Hoot that she could hear through the open door.

Today, a decade after she left Dornan’s and Jackson Hole, Sonnenberg returns to the valley to attend the world premiere showing of her documentary film Hoot in the Hole.

After leaving Jackson, Sonnenberg worked as a systems engineer, keeping computer networks running and secure. She had majored in communications in college, but seeing to the technical upkeep of other people’s communications wasn’t the life’s work she had in mind. “I cared about the environment and the world,” she says, and she wanted to make documentary films about the things she felt were important.

By 2004, after attending training seminars in documentary film work at the Sundance Institute in Utah, Sonnenberg was ready to undertake the project that had been her dream since she first conceived of herself as a filmmaker-making a documentary about the Jackson Hole Hoot.

She phoned Hank Phibbs, president of the Hoot board, and set up a meeting that Sonnenberg remembers well: “I met with the board members at a local Mexican cantina [El Abuelito]….and by the end of lunch we were in agreement: We were making a movie!”

Throughout the spring and summer of 2004, Sonnenberg traveled to Jackson Hole after, filming scenic views of the valley as well as Hoot performers. When most of that work was done, she tackled the task of going through the video archives of Hoot co-founder Dick Barker, who had taped many performances from the Hoot’s earliest years.

“The archival footage was a challenge,” Sonnenberg says. “The hardest part was deciding what performances were going to be excluded. There were so many great shows, great songs, great crowds. I could have made a five-hour movie easily.”

With Barker’s archives to draw on, Sonnenberg was able to include past performers such as longtime valley resident Jack Huyler, who was a regular at the Hoot before arthritis in his hands made it impossible for him to play the guitar (Huyler still appears in summer, telling stories from his life in the valley).

Among the other artists feature in the film are regular performers from the present Hoot like Barker, co-founder Bill Briggs, Greg Keckler, Kati Standefer, Anne and Pete Sibley, James Booth, John Kuzloski and Byron Tomingas, as well as past regulars and visiting musicians including Patrik Troiani, Ben Winship and Margo Valiante, Tucker Smith, Tom Rush, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Buffalo Grass, Eric Stone, Eric Moore, Letty and Georgia, and others.

Sonnenberg has exhibited early edits of Hoot in the Hole at film festivals around the country for the past year and a half, but tonight’s screening at the Teton Theatre is the world premiere of the final cut. Since making the Hoot film, Sonnenberg has completed a second documentary, Methidemic, a study of the meth epidemic in three Western states, which will be released next spring.

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