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Smarg Moves

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Dan Smarg was still a New Hampshire teenager in 2000 when he and a friend made a short film adapted from Heart of Darkness. Their title, Bluepocalypse Now, spoofed the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola epic that re-imagined Joseph Conrad's novella in Vietnam. The kids won the top prize at the National High School Film Festival in New York.

Now a 23-year-old Middlebury College senior majoring in film and English, Smarg shot The Bike Thief during his stint as an exchange student at England's York University last year. Although the feature-length production implies a take-off on the 1949 Italian neo-realist classic The Bicycle Thief, it's not.

"But I did give Vittorio De Sica a little homage montage, if you will," Smarg concedes. With a successful early May premiere on the Vermont campus behind him, he'll cross the Atlantic to screen his film at a downtown York theater on June 19.

The genesis of The Bike Thief, which was not an official school endeavor, speaks to Smarg's American can-do attitude. "In York, I went to a meeting of the cinematography society," he recalls. "About 40 people were pitching ideas -- usually only five are approved."

Each chosen project was allowed a week's access to the limited supply of equipment. "I needed three months," Smarg says. "That became part of the adventure: figuring out how to get the necessary gear."

The picture centers on the "farcical complications" facing a young man who steals a bike to escape the German shepherd that's chasing him. "It's a sort of comedy with an ambiguous ending," Smarg explains. "There are three main characters in a cast of about 20 Brits and a few Scots."

Four years ago, he formed a company called Maverick Film Works that crafts corporate promotional videos. He made enough from the venture to finance the $10,000 budget for The Bike Thief. Everyone worked for free, but Smarg often took them out for dinner.

Because the equipment was in PAL format, which is common in Europe, Smarg needed to buy special gizmos to transfer his 20 hours of footage to digital video. He finished editing just before his Vermont debut.

Next stop? Maybe Hollywood. "Hopefully, The Bike Thief will qualify for the student film festival circuit," Smarg says. "I have one more semester at Middlebury. Then, if I can make some connection -- like an agent -- I'll go to L.A."

Rob Williams set out to create a documentary with "that high-brow, Ken Burnsy, PBS look." Although the 37-year-old Waitsfield resident happens to be a fiddler, his 30-minute Indepen-dence Trilogy: U.S. Empire, Green Mountain Voices and Vermont Independence does not boast a Ken Burnsy musical score. He had no money and little time for such flourishes, but may eventually add some tunes to the soundtrack.

"This is a work-in-progress," Williams says. "We plan to show it once a month around the state."

Meanwhile, his film -- about the state's secession movement -- is slated for an 8 p.m. screening on June 3 at Knoll Farm's Center for Whole Communities in Fayston. Williams is associate publisher of Vermont Commons, a monthly print journal and website with a blog. It's affiliated with the group Second Vermont Republic, which sponsored a "summit meeting" in Middlebury last fall that is the focus of the digital-video doc.

The event addressed "big 21st-century economic and social problems we need to start solving at the local level," Williams points out. "The U.S. Empire has become the thing we seceded from in 1776."

A fresh look at Inherit the Wind might shed light on an old controversy: evolution versus "intelligent design." That's new lingo for creationism. Director Stanley Kramer's melodramatic 1960 film fictionalized the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, in which a Tennessee biology teacher committed the "crime" of discussing the banned Darwinian theory with his high school students.

The case pitted legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow against prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, a Christian fundamentalist. Spencer Tracey and Frederick March portray these historical figures, whose names were changed for purposes of artistic license. The script was adapted from newspaper accounts of the court proceedings by reporter H.L. Mencken, played under a different moniker by Gene Kelly.

For those who assume that science only does battle with religion in the Red States, guess again. On May 3, the New York State Assembly introduced a bill that would require schools to pair evolution with "intelligent design" in the classroom. Sounds like a movie.

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