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Craven: Vermont Filmmaking

I wrote to my students recently, to tell them about a reasonably priced film pass to the Sundance Film Festival that could save them money and the hassle of long festival lines and waiting lists. Several logged on to the Sundance site at the precise moment passes were available, only to find them sold out within seconds.

I love the hot house film culture at Sundance - but Vermont now boasts a number of equally cool festivals, where the relaxed pleasure of seeing new and unexpected movies close to home stimulates enduring experiences of shared community.

The Brattleboro Film Festival is currently unspooling films for every taste - along with filmmaker appearances and a Havana dance party. It includes a documentary about irrepressible women drawn back to live in the radioactive exclusion zones in Chernoble – and a film about the singular art and genius of New Yorker cartoons.

The Vermont International Film Festival is our longest-running event and it continues to reflect founders George and Sonya Cullinen’s progressive social vision - this year focusing on people displaced by war, racial oppression, and climate change.

Like most local festivals, the Vermont International screens work by native filmmakers and it announced recent awards last week that included gifted veteran Michael Fisher, newcomer Ethan Murphy, and screenwriter and teacher Bill Phillips, whose film, Sabra, takes a fresh and intimate look at artist Sabra Field.

The Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival premiered this summer, playing only first and second films by emerging talent. Audiences exceeded expectations and the festival will be back next summer. The Green Mountain Film Festival is an annual spring event in Montpelier and St. Johnsbury. The White River Independent Film Festival shows ground-breaking independent work; the nearby Shredder Festival plays only short films; and the Brattleboro Women’s Film Festival showcases the world’s best films by and about women.

And this is just a sample. Believe it or not, there are even more – and they all demonstrate a sturdy and admirable commitment by hundreds of volunteers and dedicated staff to advance and celebrate the benefits that a diverse cinema culture can provide.

Vermont’s independent movie theaters also play a crucial role – connecting our small towns to a regular flow of stimulating ideas and provocative visions. But Vermont has only a couple of true art house theaters. Film festivals and film societies; museum, library and café screenings; as well as innovative school programs; all help us extend this essential, exciting, and enduring resource throughout the state to film buffs of all ages.

Jay Craven is a filmmaker who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and directs Kingdom County Productions
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