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Saddleback Leather filmmaker-in-residence Joe Callander, right, and owner/film producer Dave Munson, left, play chess and talk about filmmaking and the Harvard Classics. (Supplied photo)
Saddleback Leather filmmaker-in-residence Joe Callander, right, and owner/film producer Dave Munson, left, play chess and talk about filmmaking and the
Saddleback Leather filmmaker-in-residence Joe Callander, right, and owner/film producer Dave Munson, left, play chess and talk about filmmaking and the Harvard Classics. (Supplied photo)

BENNINGTON -- Joe Callander is going to Sundance.

The Bennington native, now a resident of California, is taking a 95-second film short titled "Tim and Susan Have Matching Handguns" to the prestigious annual film festival, where it is entered in the "documentary" category and also as one of the YouTube Audience Choice competitors.

Callander started at Saddleback Leather in customer service, but his job quickly morphed. He was in marketing, a job he had earlier held with Plasan Carbon Composites, when owner Dave Munson found out he made movies. "He asked me, why not make movies for us?" And the die was cast.

"Dave believes that happiness can be attained by doing everything you can do to make the people around you successful. ... He made me a full-time filmmaker," Callander said.

Saddleback Leather, co-owned by Munson and his wife, Suzette, does a lot of relief work in Africa. Callander went to Rwanda to do a 90-minute documentary on a young man sponsored by the "Tim and Susan" of the short, and as he followed the story back to Texas, he met the couple. The short film, which he described as "a Texas love story," came to be as a stand-alone related to the longer story. Susan also works for Saddleback, based in Texas as Callander is based in California, and her husband teaches UNIX at a local community college. "They're good people. And Tim owns a lot of firearms," Callander said.


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Callander said Saddleback owner Munson is "obsessed by stories, and put his money where his mouth is" by turning Callander's filmmaking into his full-time job - which, in turn, helps the company. "In online marketing, all you have is stories," Callander said. "We got out in front in a big way."

The 90-minute feature from which this shorter documentary was born is specifically not a marketing piece for Saddleback Leather. While several of the people involved in it, and in the story it tells, are employed by the company, the story is about the 22-year-old Rwandan young man at its center. "While it was produced by Saddleback Leather, it's not a marketing piece. It's just out there," Callander said -- telling a story.

The film is at Sundance, and is part of the festival's Youth Audience Award, in which the film that gets the most viewings wins the award.

In addition, Oscilloscope Labs has acquired the rights to the film, the first short film they have ever acquired. Oscilloscope was founded by Adam Yucht, one of the Beastie Boys. "It's an experiment in how to do this, how to get short films out there," Callander said. "It looks like I'll be at the center of the experiment in short film distribution."

Callander moved to Texas almost two years ago to pursue the filmmaking, but is largely based in Los Angeles. Saddleback's headquarters are in San Antonio, but as a fully-online company, most of its workers are remote. "I can fly to Texas when I need to, or travel around the world," he said, which he does with the Munsons' other business, Love 41, the charitable organization that is the couple's main entity "on the ground" in Africa, focusing on relief and charity.

And Callander travels light. "It's just me and the translator, or myself. I use DSLAR cameras, do my own sound and video, and ask all the questions."

An earlier Callander film, "Tina Delivers a Goat," had some success at the True/False Festival in Columbia, Mo. True/False is a documentary-only festival, and "Tina" was a two-minute film about taking a goat to a new home.

"The work still holds up"

"These are little, very straightforward stories that people seem to get a kick out of," Callander said. "The British Film Institute included ‘Tina' in a best-of list, and called it ‘possibly the most perfect film of the year.' He may have been chuckling when he wrote that," Callander said.

Callander produced his first movie in 1995 in Bennington. He said it was a buddy cop film titled "Retrokop," and aired on CAT-TV in 1996. "It's no magnum opus, but I watched it a couple years ago after not seeing it in a decade or more and I think the work still holds up," he said.

In 2008, after working in New York City for several years, Callander found himself working in marketing at Plasan Carbon Composites in Bennington. While it was a good job, it wasn't what he really wanted to do, so he quit, flew to Bangkok, and made a documentary about a Vietnam veteran pursuing a Ph.D. there. While he has worked at other things in the past six years, including being a Vespa mechanic, he has tried to keep filmmaking at the center of his life. "They say it takes 10 years to really get good at something, so I figure if I can hit Sundance in six I might as well tough it out a few more years and see what happens next," he said.

In addition, he has fond memories of banging around town with classmates in the video class he took his senior year of high school. "I graduated from MAU in 2000. I think it was my senior year I took a video class taught by Mr. Foley. He pretty much gave me free rein with the video gear to do whatever I wanted. I have very fond memories of me and a ragtag band of classmates bombing around in my white Dodge Spirit Turbo that did not have a tape deck, turning over work at the high school, CAT-TV, and other various places around town. It was really a great opportunity to explore the medium and I'm sure in some way, it influenced my ultimate chosen path toward filmmaking," he said.

Contact Stephanie L. Ryan at sryan@benningtonbanner.com. Follow her on Twitter @stefkaryan