With a high-definition digital video camcorder in hand, this winter Stephen Beattie has been chronicling the efforts of a Vermont teenager as she competes in downhill ski races. The Burlington filmmaker says he envisions this project as a sort of Hoop Dreams on the slopes, a reference to the 1994 documentary about inner-city Chicago youngsters hoping to hit the jackpot as professional basketball players. Although his subject -- 16-year-old Sasha Dingle of Jericho -- comes from comparative affluence, the snowy sport she loves is much less likely than the NBA to yield riches.
Nonetheless, Beattie sees some parallels in terms of "what these kids and their parents go through" as they struggle to succeed. At 44, he's taking a risk himself: "I'm investing my own money and I've cut way back on my day jobs to follow Sasha around to every race I possibly can," he says.
Those day jobs have involved making commercial films for local businesses such as IDX, Bombardier and Lang Associates. Beattie has also collaborated on other people's narrative work, mostly as an editor.
Beattie's "cutting-room" skills and cinematographer talents are in evidence in Middlesex resident Jock MacDonald's Gone. Finished in November, the 27-minute drama about missing children boasts a score by Pat Metheny. "I decided to just add the music," explains Beattie, a fan of the jazz guitarist. "We wrote to his manager and got permission to use several tunes from several different albums free through 2006, but only for screenings at festivals and on local television."
Gone is under consideration for broadcast on Vermont Public Television's "Reel Independents." The weekly program, which spotlights local filmmakers, is currently on hiatus until April.
A Schenectady native, Beattie moved to the Green Mountain State in 1983. While still earning a Master's degree in business administration from UVM a few years later, he launched a production suite at his New North End home.
In 1997, Beattie began editing a series of shorts by Michael Fisher, a young director from South Burlington. In addition, he's been helping out on a final cut of Junior Defenders, which was known as Groupies when Keith Spiegel first began crafting his feature-length road movie in the 1990s. "We're almost done," pledges Beattie.
The same cannot be said of his as-yet-untitled ski-racing endeavor. "Maybe I'll make a demo this summer to approach people for sponsorship," Beattie says. "This is all kind of on the cheap. So far, it's a one-man show."
"Reel Independents" is another one-man show, that man being Ken Peck. He has just begun teaching two courses at Marlboro College: "Film Noir" and "Storytelling for Film." The Charlotte resident also hosts the Key Sunday Cinema Club, which previews pictures in advance of their release dates. The new season starts on February 13 at the Roxy in Burlington. Call 888-467-0404 for more details.
Second-in-command at the cinema club, Emily Watts is still pondering what she'll wear to the Academy Awards ceremonies on February 27. The 19-year-old University of Vermont sophomore will rub shoulders with the glitterati because her mother, producer-director Gerardine Wurzburg, has an Oscar nomination for Autism Is a World. The 40-minute documentary concerns a young California woman with the mysterious affliction who winds up attending college.
This won't be the first time Watts, a Latin American studies major, has graced the annual Hollywood gala. Wurzburg won a statuette in 1992 for another doc, Educating Peter. Her Washington, D.C.-based company, State of the Art Inc., is committed to films that foster social change.
Their extended family is scattered all over the world. Watts' older sister is studying Arabic on a Fulbright scholarship in Jordan. An uncle, Robert Wurzburg of St. Johnsbury, is an animator and children's author.
Watts was only 7 during her earlier foray to Tinsel Town, but it left an indelible impression. "I remember that HBO flew us out first-class and put us up at the Ritz," she says. "We were all really excited."
Nowadays, finding fancy attire seems more of a challenge. The stars walk the red carpet in priceless jewelry and fabulous couture donated by top designers. Vermont, of course, is not exactly a Mecca of high fashion.
"Maybe I can get something at The Hempest," Watts quips, referring to the ultra-earthy Queen City clothing shop. "Unfortunately, right now I only have $10 to my name."