Patricia McInroy: The Storytelling Art of FIlmmaking

Patricia McInroy, a filmmaker, is a former photojournalist who grew up in Wyoming and graduated from Casper College in 1989. After graduating from the University of Missouri, she returned to Wyoming to work as a photographer for the Casper Star-Tribune in the 1990s. After more than 10 years in the newspaper business, she went back to school to earn an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. To date, Patricia has screened her video work in more than 30 film festivals across the United States, Europe, and Latin America. In 2017, her documentary, Clara: Angel of the Rockiesaired nationally on Public Broadcasting Service after winning a contest through the show To the Contrary. Her recent documentary, Invisible Wyoming has been accepted to five film festivals. McInroy currently lives in Denver and teaches at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and The Denver School of Photography.

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Emy diGrappa (00:00):

Hello. My name is Emy diGrappa. Each week we bring you stories, asking our guests the question why. We learn about passion, purpose, and the human experience. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation, this is What's Your Why. Today, we're talking to Patricia McInroy. She is a filmmaker, photographer, and professor, and she originally grew up in Casper, Wyoming. Welcome, Patricia.

Patricia McInroy (00:48):

Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Emy diGrappa (00:51):

Yeah. Thanks for joining me. I thought it was interesting that you grew up in Casper, you since left the state, but filmmaking has been your passion or storytelling. I always think about filmmaking as storytelling, what do you think?

Patricia McInroy (01:04):

Absolutely. I'm actually really glad you said that because storytelling encompasses a lot more. I enjoy writing, I enjoy communicating through photography and so I think storytelling captures it really well.

Emy diGrappa (01:18):

I too. And as I watched some of your films on YouTube, I was thinking, "You're really telling a story. You're giving a perspective from someone else's point of view." And I wanted to know how did that become your journey?

Patricia McInroy (01:32):

I'm not sure how far back you want to go, but I was thinking about that knowing I was going to talk to you. And I really got started in 4-H in Wyoming. Photography was a project you could take in 4-H. And so when I was in grade school, I got a little Instamatic camera, and then I graduated to a DSLR, which is one with all the manual controls. And then I decided to take it at Casper College when I went there, and so everything just kind of grew out of that.

Emy diGrappa (01:59):

And so when you were in 4-H I think that that is really fun and interesting that photography was already a passion, and then you just kept growing in it and took it a step farther. But filmmaking and photography are also very different. So how did you work into filmmaking?

Patricia McInroy (02:17):

That's a really good point. When I was younger, I was like, "I don't want to shoot video, I just love the moment." I love capturing that moment that's so separate from all the moments around it. But the truth is that working for print media, you could see that it wasn't going to be going on forever. Once everything started going online, you could sort of see, this isn't going to last forever. They started giving us video cameras when we were working for newspapers with no instructions, just like, "Go out and shoot this." And they wanted us to shoot with a still camera and a video camera at the same time, that's before they had things that were integrated. So I'd be trying to shoot a wildland fire with both a still camera and a video camera and I thought, "I got to learn what I'm doing here." So I ended up going back to grad school.

Emy diGrappa (03:10):

Where did you go to grad school?

Patricia McInroy (03:11):

So I went to a school called Vermont College of Fine Arts. And it's a low residency program, meaning you go back in person every six months. But in between that time, you find a person on site to be your onsite instructor. That way you can live wherever you already are. I loved that model because I actually became connected with people all over the United States, instead of just all of us being in the same location.

Emy diGrappa (03:40):

So really, you first started out your career as a photojournalist, right?

Patricia McInroy (03:44):

That's correct. Yup.

Emy diGrappa (03:46):

Which I think is very fascinating. And especially the way you started out, which I think is so interesting how technology has really just taken off. And now with social media, people are making videos and they're being little professional photographers. I mean, really not professional. But you know what I mean? They're taking amazing photos from their phone. What do you think how that has changed your career or your profession?

Patricia McInroy (04:13):

I mean, I think the key for me was I kind of had to go with the flow. You could fight it and say, "Well, I'm going to stay here until this newspaper folds," which is what happened to the last daily newspaper I worked for. Or I could try to figure out what's next. And so I agree, everyone kind of is their own media outlet right now with social media. Everyone can put all of their information and images out there, but I do think there's a difference when you've taken the time to get trained on it a little bit more or tried to take it to another level. And I think you can tell the difference.

Emy diGrappa (04:48):

Right. So how did you start making films? Because I looked at your film, I'm so intrigued by it and wanted to know what was your inspiration for making the film called Invisible Wyoming.

Patricia McInroy (05:01):

Let me try to address both of those. How I learned it, well, when I went to grad school, I kind of didn't know what I was doing. When I signed up for grad school I was like, "This school sounds great and it seems so philosophical." Well, once I got there, I realized I had actually signed up for a conceptual art program. I wasn't in a tradition... I thought they were just going to help me get better and better at photography and maybe teach me some video. But you had to learn all the technical stuff on your own and then they gave you feedback on the content. Well, in reality, that's what we actually have to do in the world. Even if someone taught me the technical stuff today, it would change in six months. So it turns out that was a really good model.

(05:42):

As far as the Invisible Wyoming story, that's just always been one of those stories that I had in my mind. Like, I want to tell this, this is a story that I want to tell. And I think I'm the person that can tell it. And it's about the LGBTQ community in Wyoming. And having lived through that experience, when I would tell people about it, they would find it interesting. When I'm getting that kind of feedback from people that helps me realize, "Oh, this is a story I could share."

Emy diGrappa (06:13):

So interesting. One, I think Wyoming is invisible in many other ways. I mean, you've captured it in this one way with the LGBTQ community, but as I've been talking to people and learning how they come here and why they come here. And sometimes they come here for a job and they say, "I never even knew Wyoming existed."

Patricia McInroy (06:39):

That is really on target. Leaving the state, first of all, I don't think I realized I had really kind of grown up in a subculture of the United States because I didn't even just grow up in Casper, I was 10 miles outside of Casper. And so when you come from that perspective and then you're going to other places in the United States or outside of the United States, you realize, "Oh, I had a pretty unique experience that I really treasure." I also think, when I would say I'm from Wyoming, especially to someone from outside of the country, they literally had never heard of the state. So I learned to either carry a little map with me or just start explaining what all states were around it so that people would have a point of reference.

Emy diGrappa (07:22):

Well, I think that's funny because I was just recently in Brazil with my daughters, and my daughter Veronica was teasing me because everywhere we went, they wanted to know where we were from. And Veronica's from Atlanta and Rachel is from Fort Collins, and I grew up in Colorado, but regardless I would say Wyoming. And they were just like, "Look at me." But one guy, this one young guy, I was so grateful for him because he came up to me and he said, "Do you speak English?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Can I talk to you in English?" And I said, "Yeah, I'd love that." So he was practicing his English, and he was Brazilian and had never been to the United States, but spoke really good English actually. And so we were just talking, he said, "Where are you from?" And I said, "Wyoming." He goes, "Oh, do you know..." Oh, gosh, his name just went out of my head because I don't even [inaudible 00:08:15] the rapper.

Patricia McInroy (08:17):

Oh, Kanye West?

Emy diGrappa (08:18):

Kanye West. He goes, "Do you know Kanye West?" And I said, "No, not personally." He goes, "Do you live near him?" And I go, "Well, kind of, if you know Wyoming, I kind of do, but no." So anyway, it was just hilarious. And then I told my daughter, "Don't ever say, I can't say I'm from Wyoming." I said, "We're on the map now."

Patricia McInroy (08:38):

Got put on the map.

Emy diGrappa (08:38):

Yeah.

Patricia McInroy (08:41):

Well, honestly though, if I would say Yellowstone National Park, people would know about that. So that was always a good point of reference.

Emy diGrappa (08:49):

Yeah, that's true. So when you talk about Invisible Wyoming in your film and the reasons you made that film, why were you the person to tell the story?

Patricia McInroy (09:01):

That's a good question. First of all, I think to tell a story like that, it helps to have an insider and an outsider perspective. When we grow up in our own story, it's hard to tell it because we don't know why it might be interesting to other people. You know what I mean? So I think that that was part of it. Part of it was things needed to grow and evolve enough that I would be able to tell the story. So I guess, for example, so if I'm in Denver and I'm explaining to somebody that we had to go by a first name basis only when we met people who were also part of the gay or queer community because to protect. So we don't want to use last names because someone might lose their job or get outed to their family. People would think, "Wow, really? We didn't do that where I was." So I would start to realize, "Oh, okay, not everyone had the same experience."

Emy diGrappa (09:56):

So is Wyoming so isolated in that way that it doesn't have that open, diverse, gay community?

Patricia McInroy (10:06):

I don't know about the open part. And again, that's changed a lot because part of what I was doing was sort of reflecting back on the history and some of the untold history of... And the reason the history was untold was because people couldn't share it because they didn't feel safe. I would say, one thing I actually loved with it was the diversity and that's pretty much true across the board. If you're part of this community, you can go around the world and you can find your community wherever you're at, and that's really cool. In Wyoming as well, there is diversity within the community. And not just ethnic or race diversity, but there is also age diversity, men and women. And I really loved that because I thought it was like that everywhere.

(10:48):

I remember the first time I went to San Francisco, I thought, "This is going to be great. It's going to be like everyone is my best friend. We're going to be high-fiving." And it wasn't like that at all. Because that's how it was in Wyoming, it's like, "Oh, if you're part of..." First of all, everyone's real friendly in Wyoming to begin with. And if you were part of the queer community, then everyone just kind of looked to you like a brother or a sister. I guess that's how I thought of it. I got a surprise when I went to San Francisco and there were so many people, they were able to fraction off into clicks. You know what I mean? So they might be more divided actually by gender or race or age, and I hadn't anticipated that.

Emy diGrappa (11:29):

That's the beauty I think of growing up in a state where there is such a small population. When people know you and love you, even if they found out you were gay or had an opinion about that, I don't think that would stop them from loving you.

Patricia McInroy (11:46):

That hasn't been the case for me. I mean, I'm sure it has been the case for other people. The other thing is, honestly, people just start... One of my friends in the film said, "Oh, well, in my family, it's always been an open secret." Meaning, sometimes in the West, in the interior West in general, we just don't talk about personal stuff that much, we just accept each other at face value for who we are. I mean, I didn't use to care anyways, I didn't care what your politics were or any of that stuff. How you treated me and who you were as my neighbor or friend or relative, that's what was important to me. And so that's kind of what I always counted on.

(12:26):

But however, if you're showing up to the family reunion for five years in a row with the same person, people start to click. You don't necessarily have to say, this is my partner, they just start to understand that's the case. That's the kind of open secret way. Well, nowadays, I can say, "Hey, this is my wife," just the same way somebody else would.

Emy diGrappa (12:48):

That is so, so true. I love that term, open secret. You know it's true, but there's no reason to have a discussion about it. And I think that is a really good way to be because it's no one's business, it's your personal choices and it doesn't make you better, worse, different. I just think that should be the attitude, that, okay, that's Patricia's choice, that's her life.

Patricia McInroy (13:25):

And honestly, it's only one part of my identity. I think why I loved making Invisible Wyoming so much is that the two strongest parts of my identity are being from Wyoming and being part of the LGBTQ community. Most people that I've met outside of Wyoming have met somebody who they might identify as being gay, but less of them have met someone from Wyoming.

Emy diGrappa (13:48):

Oh my gosh. That's so funny.

Patricia McInroy (13:53):

So I usually had more explaining to do on the Wyoming end. Except when I'm in Wyoming, then the tables are turned the other direction, they're more likely not to have met maybe or openly have met somebody that identifies that way.

Emy diGrappa (14:06):

Now, this is kind of a switch, but when did the word queer become cool?

Patricia McInroy (14:13):

That's a good question. Back in the '90s, I was working for the Casper Star-Tribune. One of the other reporters, his name is Jason Marsden. He later became in charge of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Our bosses knew that we both identified as gay, but we hadn't actually come out to each other. Well, they sent us to cover a gay rodeo in Montana, which was a lot of fun. But this is the '90s and there were people wearing t-shirts that said, "Queers and steers."

(14:42):

I think we published a photo that said that. And I remember, I saw my parents after the article was published and my dad's like, "How'd you like hanging out with the queers?" And I was like, "Dad, you know you're not supposed to say that." And he said, "Why not, they put it on a t-shirt." So for me, that's the first time I remember hearing that word. It's one of those words that was used as an insult but then is reclaimed by the community. And I like it because I feel like it covers the gamut, because as we know now, there's lots of different ways of identifying. So that's why I like that word.

Emy diGrappa (15:21):

That's so interesting to me because I guess I feel like the reason I never liked the word is because... Well, first of all, it was like a bad word, right? We didn't use that word. And it also kind of had this meaning of being weird.

Patricia McInroy (15:37):

Yep. That's true.

Emy diGrappa (15:38):

And I don't like thinking about that when I think about the gay community, because I think that that's where they don't want to be.

Patricia McInroy (15:45):

Well, maybe. I like to embrace my weirdness.

Emy diGrappa (15:50):

Okay. Well, that's a good thing to know that you embrace the weirdness. Okay. Well, that's good. I guess I didn't look at it like that.

Patricia McInroy (16:00):

I didn't actually identify that way until I moved out of the state. It's not an uncommon experience that you need to move away from your hometown, even if you stay in the same state or whatever, to help form your identity. It's really hard to not have people around you forming your identity unless you have a chance to get outside of that bubble of where you grew up. So I guess for me, growing up in Casper, I was just one of those kids who... I played the cello, I took photos for the yearbook, but I was also in 4-H. And so I had friends that were in all different places. And I dressed weird, but that's okay. They all had known me since I was a kid. So it might have been different had I come from out of town dressed weird.

Emy diGrappa (16:47):

Interesting. Yes. That's so true. They just embraced who you were because they knew you. And that's also just one of those things about whoever you are wherever you are, I love when people can embrace other people for who they are and not judge and not have to have an opinion about everything or everyone. One of the things I wanted to ask you is about your films in general. Do you always try and tell a story that's really different, that is about not necessarily the LBGTQ community, but about people who are marginalized? Let me put it that way.

Patricia McInroy (17:26):

I have been doing that. So in the couple of my other documentaries, one is the Clara: Angel of the Rockies, who is an ex-slave who came to Colorado in 1859. And another one is Nicodemus, Kansas, which is an all-Black town in Kansas. I think for me, and again, really as a storyteller is you start to get kind of an intuition about what a good story is. And I also try to see, has this story already been told, has it already been told in certain ways before? Is it worth me to tell that story? Because I think those are stories that I think need to be shared. And also that I've really enjoyed learning while I was working on all of them.

Emy diGrappa (18:08):

Well, I did notice that when I was just doing some research and looking for your films online. And I did notice that they were about marginalized communities, and because you even in your Invisible Wyoming, you do have a focus on the Matthew Shepard incident and who he was as a person. And just hearing his parents talk was really heartfelt. And I didn't get to watch Nicodemus. Is that what it was called?

Patricia McInroy (18:36):

Mm-hmm.

Emy diGrappa (18:36):

I didn't get to watch that one, but I'm going to because it... I just started the very beginning of it and then I want to go back to it because it looks super interesting. But the third one you talked about, where can we find that one?

Patricia McInroy (18:49):

Oh, Clara?

Emy diGrappa (18:50):

Yeah, Clara.

Patricia McInroy (18:50):

Well, if you just put my name in Google Search, Patricia McInroy, you'll find my website. And I have a link to it on my website, but it was... So that particular one actually aired on PBS, and it did that because I entered a competition that was sponsored by a show called To The Contrary with Bonnie Erbé. And they were featuring all women filmmakers, and mine won the women's history award or whatever. Anyway, so it aired nationally on PBS, and because of that they still have it on the PBS site.

Emy diGrappa (19:24):

I want you to tell the audience, one, where they can find you so that they can watch your films.

Patricia McInroy (19:31):

Right. You have to click a couple of times because I put it... So if you go to patriciamcinroy.com, which luckily my name's unusual so that's lucky for me. And then if you go to videos at the top and then there's a documentary section. So under the documentaries. I have experimental films and I have a little series of my mom called Low Tech Talk, that's just intended to be humorous. They're like a little one-minute kind of funny videos. I like to use humor a lot as well.

Emy diGrappa (20:05):

Oh my gosh. That is so great. I'll have to look for those because for Mother's Day this year, my daughter actually made a video of me making fun of me, and what's it like growing up with Emeline. So anyway, it was just hilarious.

Patricia McInroy (20:23):

Yeah. My mom's a Wyoming Native and she passed away last year. When she was about 85, I was noticing too that she always needed help with technical stuff. Of course, I need help with technical stuff, but she knew all this other stuff. She still had a manual typewriter and she still had a landline phone, and she still used the phone book. Each segment is her explaining one of those things. And she has that really cool folksy wisdom way of talking, so she's explaining. And I said, "Explain it to the younger generation that didn't grow up with all this." So that's what it is. It's called Low Tech Talk. I made it for fun, but it was also a fun way for me and my mom to connect.

Emy diGrappa (21:15):

I love that. That is so cool. It has been so great talking to you, Patricia and so fun. And tell us once again ways that we can connect with you on Facebook, I don't know, Instagram, and your website. What are those?

Patricia McInroy (21:33):

The best way is through my website. So patriciamcinroy.com, and on there too, if you go to the contact, it's got my email. Invisible Wyoming, the full version is not available online right now because I'm trying to get it. It's been in six film festivals, I'm trying to get it on a streaming service. But anyone who emails me directly, I'll send them a link to the full film, or you can see my other ones are all available. Usually, what I do is I let them run the film festival gamut and then I go ahead and put them online. So all the other ones you can see there. I'm on Facebook and Instagram, but my presence isn't... It's better just to go to my website.

Emy diGrappa (22:14):

Okay, great. Well, it's been great talking to you today. Thank you so much.

Patricia McInroy (22:18):

Well, thanks. It's been a real honor to be included.

Emy diGrappa (22:28):

Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why, brought to you by Wyoming Humanities with support from Wyoming Community Foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to thinkwy.org. Subscribe and never miss a show.