A St. Johnsbury Academy graduate and freelance filmmaker is competing in the big leagues for his work in short films.

Daniel Mattei has entered the My Rode Reel contest, hosted by Rode Microphones. The contest limits all entries to three minutes.

Entries are judged by genre and by prize. Prizes are awarded for four categories: Judges' Choice, voted on by a panel of judges, Peoples' Choice, which is determined by popular vote, Judges' Behind-The-Scenes, for the best behind-the-scenes footage, and Young Filmmaker, given to the best short film made by someone between the ages of 13 and 18.

Mattei is hoping to win the Peoples' Choice Award, which can be voted on once a day by anyone visiting the Rodes website. http://www.rode.com/myrodereel/watch/search/date/desc/all/all/Stacked%20Deck/0. Prizes include a Rodes filmmaking camera valued at $40,000, in addition to software packages and camera tools and accessories.

Mattei's short film, "Stacked Deck," is set near Phoenix, Arizona, where Mattei currently resides. Although a graduate of the St. Johnsbury Academy, Mattei attended university in Florida and has been spending time exploring the United States as a freelance filmmaker ever since. "Although I grew up in St. Johnsbury, it's been really cool to explore the different states," he said.

Mattei's dry, chapped desert home gave him the inspiration for "Stacked Deck," which takes viewers through the story of two brothers, one lost physically, the other lost spiritually. "I wanted to showcase the landscape," said Mattei, referring to the sparseness of Arizona's Dreamy Draw Park, in which his film is set. To him, the desert evokes imagery of "exploring and searching."

While "Stacked Deck" begins as the story of a search-and-rescue mission, it quickly becomes a parable of the search for faith in a world in which we often struggle with the idea that "life is kind of by chance," said Mattei, reflecting on his project. "One brother - the lost brother - is devout in his beliefs, and the searching character struggles with faith," Mattei continues. Only when the searching character is able to come to terms with his own mortality and spiritual beliefs does he locate his missing brother.

Mattei reached into his personal background as a Christian to bring out the themes of spirituality and faith. "I always try to bring a Christian message into my films," he says, although his intention for "Stacked Deck" is that viewers - much like the searching brother - find their own meaning and spirituality within the film's three-minute span.

Mattei admits that he found the three-minute limit constraining at times. "I wanted to do a lot of character work," he said, which, in such a short time frame, can be a challenge. However, Mattei's educational background prepared him well for the limitations. Mattei holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Palm Beach Atlantic University, but he began studying filmmaking at the St. Johnsbury Academy. "I did production work there," he recalls. "Screenwriting too."

"Stacked Deck," along with a short introduction by Mattei himself, will play at the Star Theatre before every film.

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