Serendipity played a major role in Stone Rising, a directorial debut by Camilla Rockwell that will screen at the Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts on June 18. The Burlington resident's 57-minute documentary profiles Dan Snow, a Dummerston craftsman who fashions sturdy stone walls much like those from earlier centuries that still dot the New England landscape. He uses the same medium to engineer more sculptural and whimsical creations, such as the peaked "Moorish tent" that sits in a splendid Newfane garden.
Just as an unseen observer explains how Snow searched for the perfect pointed stone to top this improbable stone tent, a bird flies into frame and lands on that very spot. Movie magic. "Dan knows he'll always find what he needs," says Rockwell, 54. "I quickly realized that I couldn't structure the film as planned. I had to trust I'd find what I needed. My original intent was to make a 20-minute piece watching him build something from beginning to end. I wound up shooting for 16 months, in all seasons, which I hadn't expected."
Andy Goldsworthy, the subject of a popular 2001 doc called Rivers and Tides, would probably sense a kindred spirit in Dan Snow. The two men seem to have parallel obsessions, though the British environmental artist's assemblages -- often made only with twigs or leaves -- deteriorate, while the native Vermonter's are meant to last.
Rockwell first learned about Snow by reading his 2001 book, In the Company of Stone, which her husband had received as a birthday present. "I liked the way Dan's mind works," she says. "I enjoyed his writing even more than pictures of the walls. I wondered, 'Who is this person?'"
That question might also be asked about Rockwell, who got her first cinematic job in the early 1980s, when she began a 13-year association with Ken Burns. She went from business manager to co-producer, helping the now-famous New Hampshire filmmaker turn out epic historical projects for PBS such as The Civil War and Baseball.
A mother of two grown sons, Rockwell moved to the Queen City in 1999. "I was doing film work for hire, but nothing from my own heart until Stone Rising," she notes. "I'm really interested in the artistic process and in biography. I saw the arc of Dan's life, as he becomes more and more playful in what he builds."
The documentary's 7:30 p.m. Firehouse screening will be preceded by a 1 p.m. book signing by Snow at Borders, on the other end of the Church Street Marketplace.
The 350 messianic Christians once collectively known as the Church at Island Pond are now part of the Twelve Tribes' Communities. Some of them remain in the little Northeast Kingdom town; others are based in about 50 additional locations around the globe. They look like hippies living in an idyllic "Little House on the Prairie" universe, but outsiders have alleged that their old-fashioned approach to parenting is actually physical abuse.
Jean Swantko's 75-minute documentary, The Children of the Island Pond Raid: An Emerging Culture, chronicles a startling day in 1984: On June 22, state troopers wearing bulletproof vests seized 112 kids from their unarmed, Bible-believing families. A battery of social workers and psychologists waited at a nearby ski resort set up as a mass deprogramming center. But the late Judge Frank Mahady dismissed the charges, citing unconstitutionality and lack of evidence.
Swantko, who sees the raid as part of a nationwide conspiracy "to dismantle non-mainstream religions," was a St. Johnsbury public defender involved in a separate church-related case at the time. She later joined the community.
The film is unspooling, for free, 21 years to the day after the fact at the Rutland Public Library and the same Newport armory where the children were detained. It's also slated for the Rockingham Free Library in Bellows Falls on July 5. All three shows begin at 7 p.m.
Swantko employs archival photos and contemporary talking heads, including former officials, police and attorneys involved in the raid or its aftermath. Several of the youngsters in question, who then ranged from infants to teens, are now adults offering recollections or feelings about the pivotal event.
"It's significant that this took place in 1984," Swantko says. "Now we really are living in a Brave New World, except that the buzzword is terrorism. What happened back then is a story that Vermonters should know."