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Crossing Borders

State of the Arts


Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven describes his latest project as “a bit like a barn raising.”

Instead of going the traditional route of seeking deep-pocketed investors for Northern Borders — his fourth film adaptation of a Howard Frank Mosher novel — Craven is conducting “outreach to hundreds of people who will participate in one way or another,” he says in a phone interview.

Craven has drawn support from Marlboro College, where he teaches, and local businesses. He’s recruited students from 11 colleges to spend a semester at Marlboro working on the production. He’s secured the donation of an Arriflex high-end digital camera. Now, as the five-week shoot approaches, Craven is planning two April fundraisers to give the public a chance to contribute, too, to this quintessentially Vermont production.

Craven says his new production model, which “combines independent filmmaking with intensive education,” is “a bigger producing job, because it requires squeezing every element of the budget.” But the traditional investment model has proved itself “not a viable form of financing” for projects like this, he notes.

Though the film’s budget is small — Screen Actors’ Guild regulations keep it under $500,000 — its stars are recognizable. Bruce Dern and Geneviève Bujold will play hardscrabble farming couple Austen and Abiah Kittredge, roles that Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward once hoped to play. Local performers include familiar faces such as Rusty DeWees and John Kiedaisch — plus Irene Shamas, a Putney 16-year-old making her film debut.

The story’s protagonist is the couple’s young grandson, who “finds himself somewhat marooned in the Kingdom with his grandparents,” Craven says. The boy’s coming-of-age involves solving the mysteries of their combative relationship, described as the “Forty Years’ War.”

Craven, who wrote the script — with input from his student apprentices — says the story has “a lot of parallels to my own life.” Of all Mosher’s works, he says, “This is the most intimate in terms of relationships... In some ways I think it’s also Mosher’s funniest story.”

Before he embarked on this project, Craven had planned a film adaptation of Judgment Ridge, a nonfiction account of the 2001 murders of Dartmouth professors Half and Susanne Zantop by two Vermont teenagers. But community reactions showed him, he says, that “it’s really too early to tell that story in Vermont as a Vermont filmmaker.”

By contrast, Northern Borders aroused strong local enthusiasm even before the script was written, Craven says. In Marlboro, Guilford and other nearby communities, where they’ll start shooting this Wednesday, he and his cast and crew are sure to find a warm reception.

Northern Borders public fundraising events with Jay Craven, Bruce Dern, Howard Frank Mosher. Tuesday, April 3, 6-8 p.m. at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center; and Monday, April 9, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center, Burlington. For information on attending, contact Linda Little at 357-4616 or