Dylan Duncan and Travis Vanalstyne are recent art-college graduates living near each other in their little Windsor County hometown of Chester. At 23 and 22, respectively, they seem perfectly normal. But for some strange reason, these nascent filmmakers want to frighten the hell out of us.
Ghosts of Vermont, the debut documentary they co-created, is a 45-minute examination of allegedly haunted locations around the state. It mixes dramatizations with eyewitness testimony and historical accounts in a quartet of spine-tingling legends "inspired by" the research of Burlington author Joe Citro. The atmospheric 2003 movie will screen at 7:30 on April 15 at the Congregational Church in Westminster West -- part of an ongoing series devoted to the work of local artists.
Subtitled A Chronicle of Four Lingering Spirits, the picture surveys sites with a reputation for spectral encounters: a railroad bed in Hartford, a 150-year-old inn in Chester, a covered bridge in Stowe and a rural roadside in Whipple Hollow -- an abandoned community near Rutland that no longer appears on any map.
Up next: Spirited Vermont, for which the Ghost team plans to shoot approximately 10 more of Citro's stories about paranormal activity. "They're all based on 'real-life' situations that Joe has investigated," Duncan explains. "He'll serve as the on-screen host in between segments, providing voice-over narration for the entire film."
"I'd like to see myself as Rod Serling," Citro quips, referring to the host of the vintage science-fiction show, "The Twilight Zone."
Along with friend Steve Bissette of Marlboro, Citro plans to produce the new Duncan-Vanalstyne venture. The collaboration may spotlight Cavendish, Cuttings-ville, Bakersfield, Salisbury and Burling-ton, among other spooky spots. "Maybe we'll cover some of the UVM ghosts," he adds. "And I recently discovered a super-weird story in North Pownal."
Citro, who acknowledges his role as "Vermont's resident supernaturalist," wrote a script that incorporates 13 of these "true" tales. Although fundraising efforts will determine how many of them can actually be filmed, the directorial duo is already moving full speed ahead. Duncan says casting for the re-enactments will begin this month, with shooting to get underway in June.
Citro is impressed that the
"enthusiastic, talented and innovative" youngsters successfully marketed Ghosts -- which had a budget of about $3000 -- for broadcast on 18 public-access stations last year.
There's also a geographic nexus. "What makes the alchemy is that we're all from Chester," he says. "It's important that Vermonters are doing this legitimate folklore presented as fact, not fiction. That can be a real contribution to the state's archives."
In the past, Citro has been disappointed with cable TV programs -- on the Discovery and Learning channels, for example -- that tackled his material in a sensationalist manner. He trusts Duncan and Vanalstyne to deliver a production that qualifies more as art-house fare.
While emerging as cineastes, they retain the awe of little boys scaring each other around a campfire. They're unnerved by the strange saga of Whipple Hollow, where locals have noticed an ethereal woman appearing and disappearing on a deserted road.
Duncan recalls driving the same route one memorable night with the film's sound designer, Zachary McNaughton: "We saw a black figure-type thing rush across the tall grass."
It turned out to be the shadow of some vegetation illuminated in the car's headlights. "We were definitely freaked out at first," Duncan admits.
But what's the explanation for the words "God bless" that McNaughton saw written on a mirror covered with steam from a shower at that inn in Chester? The innkeepers had observed the identical message three days earlier, and also report frequently hearing a child's voice singing disembodied lullabies.
As a guest of honor at the upcoming Lake Placid Film Festival, director Martin Scorsese will present a rare, restored version of The Leopard. Luchino Visconti's 1963 epic boasts an international cast that includes Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon.
Set in 1860, the Italian classic focuses on an impoverished Sicilian prince grappling with social upheaval. Critic Pauline Kael described it as a European kin to Gone With the Wind that displays "an almost Chekhovian sensibility."
According to festival cofounder Kathleen Carroll, "Scorsese ranks it along with The Red Shoes and Citizen Kane as one of the films he lives by."
Now there's a concept to die for.