For anyone who wants to create or preserve beauty, Vermont's landscape is inspiring. Matt Merwin, 21, of Castleton built a short film on that idea, and a jury on the West Coast agreed with him. The son of artist Tom Merwin and poet Julie Merwin, Merwin is currently studying film on a scholarship at Georgia's Savannah College of Art and Design. His 12-minute film "Internal Currents," which mixes nature images with footage of local artists plying their craft, just received the Aspiring/Young Filmmaker Award at the 2008 EarthVision International Environmental Film Festival, an annual competition headquartered in Santa Cruz.
The EarthVision Festival gives out awards in 12 categories each year to films that combine artistry with a message of "positive change for the planet." Past winners include last year's global warming doc Everything's Cool.
According to Merwin's press release, "for this film Matt climbed Camel's Hump, spelunked down caves, located a stand of old-growth trees in the middle of Robert Frost Forest, practiced Tai Chi at Button Bay on Lake Champlain and filmed a night firing at Robert Compton's pottery kiln." He also drew on the local talents of his dad, who contributed the image of a primal artist's handprint to the cave sequence; and Castleton State sociology prof Phil Lamy, drummer for the Green Brothers Band, who wrote a jazz score.
Reminiscent of the 1982 cult film Koyaanisqatsi, "Internal Currents" mesmerizes viewers with a wordless time-lapse montage that brings them from pristine mountaintops down to the sparkling waves of Lake Champlain. Toward the end, slightly sinister Boston skyscrapers appear.
Merwin uses a high-def digital camera to capture his vivid, sharp-edged images. Where many directors his age would be dropping references to Tarantino, he's all about Kurosawa, Fellini and Jackson Pollock. "I try to do as much painting as I possibly can with the cinematography, and Vermont's perfect for that," Merwin says. Influenced by Asian traditions, he adds: "I kind of throw away the idea of time. I try to take advantage of the moment as much as possible, because the moment is where the truth is."
That Zen-like ethos may have inspired his next project, a short documentary about Burlington Tai Chi master Robert Boyd. Merwin talks excitedly about returning to Vermont and getting Drawing Water Productions - a company he started with his parents - off the ground. With some local commercial work already under his belt, he hopes to sell his skills to "green" businesses.
He wants to get some friends from Savannah up here, too. Though Merwin expects to make useful contacts out West, he thinks things are changing in the film world, with inspiration and know-how moving out of the metropolis. "People in Hollywood are basically playing a numbers game with an art form," he says. "We've got to try to start moving energy from the inside of America." And when it comes to promoting the cause of the environment, he believes, "Filmmakers have a very loud voice."