Regional filmmakers earn national recognition with short about Southwest Virginia life

Mike Still • Jun 25, 2020 at 8:00 PM

LOS ANGELES — The team behind a 2019 short film on the impact of drug abuse on families in Southwest Virginia is getting more national recognition despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the film industry.

Mark Salyer, co-producer of “Ladies Most Deject,” said the short — about a teen’s struggle to get her sisters away from their addict mother and drug dealer father — said the outbreak has not stopped the film from garnering awards at three festivals in Houston, San Francisco and Idyllwild, California, since February.

“Ladies Most Deject” was co-written by its star, Wise native and UCLA Film School student Conner Wharton, and Salyer was filmed in several settings in Wise County with director Martha Elcan.

Wharton’s mother, Melissa Palmer, partnered with Salyer to create ARAY Productions (Appalachian Right At Ya) to develop stories and television, new media and film projects about the Appalachian region.

“We felt fortunate that we got most of the festival season done before the pandemic hit,” Salyer said. “The weekend that the pandemic started, we were at the Idyllwild festival and received the award for best ensemble in a short film, and that made us happy people.”

In addition to the Idyllwild ensemble and audience choice awards, Salyer said “Ladies” won a gold REMI Award for short subject dramatic/original film at the WorldFest Houston 53rd annual film festival in April. In May, the film gathered three more awards at San Francisco’s IndieFEST, including a leading actress nod for Wharton and a special mention for the women-centric composition of much of the production team.

“Ladies” has also gotten recognition in Bristol, Virginia, during the 2019 PUSH Film Festival and other screenings, and it won a best screenplay award at the Dam Film Festival in Boulder City, Nevada.

“We’re slated for another festival in Richmond in the fall,” Salyer said, “and we’re working on new feature scripts we hope to produce soon.”

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