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At the Vermont International Film Festival ... a First-Ever Film Slam, and More

State of the Arts


Published October 19, 2011 at 10:41 a.m.

This week, we spotlight two local films premiering at the Vermont International Film Festival, which starts on Friday. What else can you expect in the fest’s 26th year?

New venues: While Palace 9 Cinemas in South Burlington remains the primary site, this year you can also catch screenings in downtown Burlington at North End Studios, the University of Vermont and FlynnSpace, as well as at the Essex Cinemas.

Themes: Fest organizers have put films in thematic clusters such as Borders & Displacement, Freedom & Liberty Showcase and a Food Showcase. For insight into the culture that produced the revolution in Tahrir Square, check out the Egyptian Showcase.

Documentaries: Hell and Back Again cuts back and forth between a wounded Marine’s recovery in North Carolina and his platoon’s continuing combat in Afghanistan. To make The Interrupters, director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) embedded himself with a group of peace warriors: CeaseFire, an organization devoted to stopping gang violence in Chicago. Reviewers say the doc is as compelling as a real-life “The Wire.” The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 offers an unusual window on the black power movement — through the recovered footage of Swedish TV journalists.

On the lighter side, Being Elmo sounds like a must for fans of Jim Henson and his Muppet creations. Director Tiffany Shlain chronicles her love-hate affair with the internet in Connected: An Autoblogography About Love, Death & Technology.

Narratives: Amigo is the latest from John Sayles, everyone’s favorite brainy leftist filmmaker. It explores the roots of American imperialism in the Philippine-American War, with a strong cast that includes Chris Cooper. Remember Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, of Leningrad Cowboys Go America? He’s back with Le Havre, about a Frenchman who discovers an illegal African immigrant hiding in the port city.

Hardcore fans of Pieter Bruegel and Rutger Hauer may not have much in common, but their idols meet in The Mill and the Cross, a painterly Polish film that brings to life the artist’s 1564 masterpiece The Way to Cavalry, with Hauer as Bruegel. The Salesman is a character-driven comedy from Québec. From France, Tomboy is about a young girl who experiments with a male identity.

Animation: For all ages, Russian film The Ugly Duckling showcases stop-motion plasticine animation and a message about the evils of prejudice. Fans of Burlington cartoonist James Kochalka will want to catch his acting turn in Mars, a playful rotoscoped space-exploration story from Geoff Marslett.

Local Films: Seems lots of Vermonters are picking up cameras these days; VTIFF has included 23 films in its Vermont Filmmakers’ Showcase this year. Many are shorts presented in thematically related groups; all are free.

Three films screening together spotlight Vermont’s teens. Along with Bess O’Brien’s doc about foster children, Ask Us Who We Are (recently featured in the Huffington Post), you can see director Joel Klein’s short “One Voice,” an adaptation of his son Josh Klein’s play about middle-school antigay bullying. Four Burlington High sophomores take us inside an informally segregated lunchroom in “Who Sits Where and Why?”

Dancer/choreographer Tiffany Rhynard (of Big Action Performance Ensemble) switched art forms to make “Little House in the Big House” with her sister, Kim Brittenham. The sibs followed 45 incarcerated women as they built a house under the guidance of Vermont Works for Women.

Local SF and horror fans will get their first look at two films we’ve been covering in this space: Tin Can, the claustrophobic mission-to-Mars tale from director Logan Howe; and Tim Joy’s “Soul Keeper” (see Alice Levitt’s article here).

Twenty-four-hour filmmaking competitions are always a ton of fun — for the observers, anyway, who get to see the bleary-eyed cinéastes stumble into an auditorium and unveil their results. For the first time, VTIFF is hosting “Sleepless in Burlington,” coordinated by Barry Snyder, who’s been holding similar annual contests at the Lake Placid Film Forum. See what student teams from UVM, Middlebury College, St. Michael’s College and Burlington College produced under pressure at the closing showcase on October 30.

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