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Footage Foibles

Flick Chick


Published September 7, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

When Jay Craven is asked to describe his experience on Disappearances, the Peacham director calls the five-week spring shoot in the Northeast Kingdom "great and terrifying and wonderful." The terrifying part? The production encountered some gut-wrenching technical disasters: scratches on 6000 feet of the negative, possibly caused by a rented camera; flickering on another 4000 feet of footage, thanks to a lighting ballast that went kaput; and blue streaks on 2500 feet of raw stock that Kodak mistakenly sent through an airport X-ray machine.

That Kodak moment was ameliorated when the company replaced the ruined film. But Craven had to add an unanticipated two and a half days to the schedule to redo scenes shot on the damaged stock. The scratches and flickers "can be fixed digitally at a cost of $7.50 a frame, 24 frames per second," he says with a sigh. "Or so we're told."

If not, perhaps the movie's time frame -- the 1930s -- could justify a vintage look of scratchy celluloid with flickering images. This is Craven's fourth film based on work by Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher; all of them have required costumes and sets reflecting early-20th-century eras.

And what are those great and wonderful aspects of Craven's ambitious current feature? Singer-actor Kris Kristofferson plays a character named Quebec Bill trying to save his endangered cattle by smuggling booze during Prohibition. Genevieve Bujold (Choose Me) portrays his Aunt Cordelia. William Sanderson (Larry of Larry, Darryl and Darryl on "Newhart") appears as Bill's hired hand. Lothaire Bluteau (Jesus of Montreal) has the role of a villainous Canadian bootlegger.

The crew was a dream team. "They performed miracles," Craven suggests. "Carl Sprague, our art director who worked on films like The Royal Tennenbaums, personally bought two white 1932 Cadillacs that are at the center of the story. He's still trying to resell them."

Craven recently submitted a rough cut to the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, which takes place in January. He'll know in December if his $1.5 million picture has been selected by the prestigious Utah event, where it might be possible to attract a distributor. "We're still raising money," he says, "as always."

Craven describes Disappearances as "a sort of Indiana Jones in Vermont, with a magic-realism streak." Shot in Cinemascope, the cost for lenses alone was $10,000, but he envisions the finished product with a wide perspective "like the old Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns."

Before that, Craven's Barnet-based Kingdom County Productions will open a satellite office in Montpelier this fall. "The idea is to provide easier access for new staff members who live in Northfield and Burlington," he notes.

Further down the road, Craven will depart from Mosherville with two scripts now in development that are adapted from other people's literary works: They Don't Dance Much is a 1940 "country-noir classic" by North Carolina novelist James Ross. Crime Unpunished, a 1955 psychological thriller by Georges Simenon, concerns "a guy who's not comfortable in his own skin," Craven explains.

A documentary, tentatively titled After the Fog, is already in progress. He has interviewed Vermont veterans from World War I through the Iraq conflict in this study of American militarism and its consequences back home. Craven is still seeking contemporary fighters, particularly from the state's National Guard.

John O'Brien has spent eight months shooting The Green Movie, his semi-improvisational oeuvre about the Earth's sustainability. Author-environmentalist Bill McKibben stars as himself in a cast of about a dozen actual Sharon Academy students, also playing themselves. At 7 p.m. on September 14, the Tunbridge auteur is offering a free preview of edited and unedited footage at the Jaquith Public Library in Marshfield. He'll be on hand to answer questions.

"It's a comedy about the future of the planet as seen through the eyes of teenagers," says Art Bell, a Burlington resident serving as cinematographer. "As in John's previous work, this is a written, loose narrative where we have set up scenarios and captured them as they played out."

The kids stage a mock cable-TV show "in a loose nod to Jon Stewart," Bell reports, adding that the high school's seniors also organized a "green prom" with "a huge solar trailer to power the entertainment -- actual Vermont indie rock bands, including The Smittens."

Call 426-3581 for details about the sneak peek.