Americans often create their own mystique. That seems to be the case with a West Burke native who goes only by the name JoDa. But a website for Fledgling Films, which teaches moviemaking to teenagers, identifies him as Joda Hodge. Either way, the 29-year-old Vermonter -- who studied cinema for a semester at Burlington College -- has ambition to spare. After recently self-publishing a memoir, Freedom Road, about cross-country adventures on his Harley-Davidson, he's now planning to shoot "a matriarchal biker gang feature" this fall.
Early next month writer-director JoDa will hold auditions for his project, entitled The Spread Eagles, in Burlington. Hopeful thespians might want to give their parents as little information about the endeavor as possible.
"The title has proven to be a provocative, paranoia-imbuing pain in my rear," JoDa writes in an email. "An actress I cast last year bailed on me after her wacko family convinced her that, despite there being no nudity in the script, I could still paste her face on a porno actor's body."
Set in the Northeast Kingdom, the story centers on "two motorcycle chicks" wrongly incarcerated in a mental hospital. They break out and reunite with their all-female Spread Eagles Motorcycle Club, which is then overrun by a hog-riding gaggle of men called the LeatherNEKs. "But, the 'gynarchy' rises like the Phoenix to smite those that abused them, trouncing the patriarchy," JoDa explains.
"Gynarchy" does not refer to a doctor you would see for Pap smears, by the way, even though a spread-eagle approach is generally required during such exams.
JoDa, who earned a 1999 University of Vermont degree in psychology and English, researched his screenplay in the trenches. "The film is loosely based on interviews I've conducted with motorcycle club members, some of them tough biker women," he notes. "I penned it to be an ironic take on an authentic biker-chick gang . . . so consumed with their alpha-male loathing that they become what they fear and detest."
The format will be digital video, and JoDa envisions his set as boasting "a guerrilla-style schedule full of wild improv and experimentation." After a year of editing, he'd love to take the finished production to Sundance in January 2007.
JoDa's drive may be fueled by a complicated upbringing. "I am grateful to my orthodox parents (who are guaranteed to despise my film's iconoclastic wit), for they've granted me instant, unique, outsider status," he suggests.
A passage in the 374-page Freedom Road hints at a father who wished for a son "more broad-shouldered and hairy-chested." Instead, JoDa remembers he outraged the family by putting on nail polish at 19 and later parading around "a redneck street dance in Lyndonville" wearing a woman's one-piece bathing suit. Fact or fiction? It's hard to know.
As an adult, JoDa continues to attract attention by his choice of a single moniker. "Strangers find themselves so frickin' original when they pair me with that green Star Wars mentor," he grouses.
JoDa is no doubt a proverbial rebel with a good cause: identity. "I am a BARNEK: Born and raised in the Northeast Kingdom, but have spent considerable time in San Francisco and Australia (before being deported)," he recalls in his email. "I aspire for more than the pastoral, idle beauty here. It's a b*** trying to unearth some more artistic intellectuals."
Certain literary figures have provided vicarious camaraderie. In Freedom Road, upon arriving at the former Beatnik enclave of San Francisco's North Beach, JoDa seems to offer a prayer to the holy trinity: "Ginsberg, can you hear me? Burroughs, am I worthy? Kerouac, can you feel my ode-attack?"
The paperback's cover bears an ode-attack by Kingdom author Howard Frank Mosher, who calls the book a "joyride across America by a talented and fearless young novelist with a fine sense of humor and a keen eye for what's right, what's weird and what's flat-out wrong with the United States today."
Although JoDa's joyride is already documented in print, the "existential highway" still beckons this self-described "leather-clad hick" with the kind of mythmaking skill that once blessed the Beats.
Aspiring biker babes and alpha males -- ages 18 or older -- can audition for The Spread Eagles on August 4, 6 to 9 p.m., at Burlington College. Or send headshots to JoDa at P.O. Box 20, West Burke, VT 05871.