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Facts on Film

Flick Chick


Published June 22, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

Filmmaking offers an alternative means of communication for Rebecca Heller, a 2005 Burlington College graduate. The 23-year-old's final degree project, "Sushi," concerns a young woman who finally "comes out" to her carnivore parents by revealing she's a fan of raw fish. The 9-minute short, which tackles the search for sexual identity with a metaphoric twist, has virtually no dialogue. "I can't really express myself in words," Heller acknowledges. "So I figured I might as well make it visual."

That approach seems to have impressed the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, which will screen "Sushi" on June 26. This California premiere is quite a coup, but Heller can't be there in person. Her gig in Connecticut as a camera intern on an indie feature, Big Bad Swim, doesn't end until June 28. "It's bittersweet," she says with a sigh.

The Long Island native worked part-time jobs to raise the $3000 "Sushi" budget. Her film, which stars Cristin Tanner as the unnamed girl with a secret yen for Japanese cuisine, was shot in one week at Queen City locations such as 135 Pearl. There, the protagonist and a new friend cast shy glances at each other while sipping miso soup.

Angelina Jolie may play a gun-toting CIA operative in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but the blockbuster opened too late to be included in The Violent Woman: Femininity, Narrative and Violence in Contemporary American Cinema. The new paperback by University of Vermont Assistant Professor Hilary Neroni explores relevant gender issues in several popular motion pictures.

"The book ends and the movies keep coming," acknowledges Neroni, 35. The 203-page publication, released by State University of New York Press, is rooted in her decade-old doctoral dissertation. "The original idea started in grad school," she explains. "Thelma and Louise had come out while I was in college. The trend took hold. I couldn't help noticing all these films with women who commit violence. I'm interested in how that resonates in the culture."

She observed that many of these cinematic female characters are not paired with romantic partners. "That set me off to investigate why," Neroni says. "A strong, violent woman often has no male counterpart. Hollywood is too nervous about the destabilization of how we perceive masculinity and femininity."

The book examines mostly mainstream fare, ranging from Terminator 2: Judgment Day to Courage Under Fire. Neroni rejects the suggestion from some quarters that they're not important films. "I think this is an essential topic to address," she notes, adding that roles depicting violent women "have exploded across mediums and across dramas. Now it's kind of ubiquitous."

Neroni, who hails from Rhode Island, spent several years in Los Angeles during the 1990s earning her Master's degree and Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. "Film studies brought together fine arts, aesthetics, psychology, sociology, history -- all those things that fascinated me," she says. Neroni's been teaching film at UVM for five years; her husband Todd McGowan is in the same department.

She has already begun work on a second book, which will focus on New Zealand director Jane Campion of The Piano fame. "I want to do a theoretical investigation of her work," Neroni says. "The style she's developed presents complex female main characters."

The 16th annual Vermont International Film Festival in Burlington doesn't take place until October 13-16. But the submission deadlines are coming right up: July 1 for the competition's three categories (war and peace, justice and human rights, the environment), and July 15 for the Vermont Filmmakers Showcase.

Call 660-2600 or visit http://www.vtiff.org/05festival.html to request entry forms. The fest also needs volunteers.

Executive Director Mira Niagalova hopes to organize an homage to Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre: The Wrath of God) if the German auteur can attend. Apparently, he's saying maybe. She also anticipates a Green Mountain State premiere of Why We Fight by Waitsfield resident Eugene Jarecki, whose documentary won the top prize at Sundance in January.

The local film fest will be one day shorter than it was last year, due to the Yom Kippur holiday as well as financial considerations. And there's a new award in the environment category from Ben & Jerry's. Some lucky artist will get $500.