With the Iowa caucuses a fait accompli and the New Hampshire primary on the horizon, perhaps Heath Eiden could qualify as Howard Dean's cinematic running mate. The Morristown filmmaker began shooting the nominee wannabe two years ago in Vermont and, camera in hand, following him on the campaign trail once the Democratic race took off.
"I'm essentially building an archive," Eiden says, referring to the 125 hours of footage he has amassed so far.
His ambitious project started modestly in 2002, when a Stowe friend named Carroll Jones was commissioned to paint the outgoing governor's official portrait. Dean posed in casual dress next to a canoe on the shores of Lake Champlain. Eiden received permission to document the process.
His subsequent attempts to craft a significant big-screen profile of the candidate have been more problematic, however. Although Dean was initially receptive to Eiden's idea of an on-the-road effort, success ironically intervened.
"He quickly became such a phenomenon. His staff never told me yes or no. I finally gave up trying to get through to them. I had hoped to be independent but plugged into the campaign, like The War Room," Eiden says, referring to D.A. Pennebaker's behind-the-scenes glimpse of the 1992 Clinton presidential push.
Dean's Hollywood connections may have trumped the hometown boy. Eiden suspects that a documentary by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and Doug Liman, both well established in the industry, took precedence over his own plans.
The situation called for guerrilla tactics. "I decided to break the rules," explains Eiden, 35. "Now it's strictly cinema verite."
Lucky for him, the man who practically invented that genre has just offered to help. A friend connected Eiden with Albert Maysles, whose role is yet to be determined. Maysles directed classics such as Gimme Shelter, the 1970 rockumentary of a fateful Rolling Stones tour, and Grey Gardens, a 1975 look at two reclusive women related to Jackie Kennedy. As a cinematographer, he shot a landmark 1968 California concert for Monterey Pop.
Eiden has been trekking to Boston, New York City, New Hampshire and Iowa on a small donation and his own dime. With press credentials but no special access, he now rubs elbows with the political paparazzi: "It's just my backpack journalism," he says.
In early 2003 Eiden launched a website, DeanTV.org. He chronicles electioneering news with video, photos and text, plus writes a blog for daily personal updates.
The headlines accompanying Eiden's bulletins reflect pure partisanship: "Dean Clearly Won the Debate, Yet Again." Or they can be interesting non sequiturs: "Dean Helped Pioneer Women's Hockey in Vermont."
"This is an incredible moment in history to be part of," Eiden says of his mission. "My fantasy to be there for Howard Dean is not completely dashed."
IN BRIEF: Mea culpa. A mention of Estrogen Fest in this column two weeks ago mistakenly listed last year's dates and films, an unfortunate result of speed-reading the Internet. The 2004 event takes place February 19-22 at the FlynnSpace in Burlington, with the full lineup as yet unannounced. Look here for more details -- the correct ones -- as they emerge.
And more details next week about the Green Mountain Film Festival in Mont-pelier, taking place March 10-22. A live conversation with noted critic Molly Haskell is scheduled at the Savoy Theater on the last day of the annual extravaganza.
Martin Scorsese will be the guest of honor at June's Lake Placid Film Festival (formerly Forum). He was in Montreal last summer shooting The Aviator, a Howard Hughes biopic due out next December. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardener, No Doubt's Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow and Jude Law as Errol Flynn.
Aviator cinematographer Robert Richardson, who also collaborated with Scorsese on Bringing Out the Dead a few years ago, attended the University of Vermont from 1973 to 1975. He won a 1991 Oscar for giving Oliver Stone's JFK its visual beauty.
Writer-director Michael Burke, a Rutland native who studied at UVM and Castleton State, just received some good news about his feature debut, The Mudge Boy. Showtime/Strand Releasing has picked up the drama for theatrical distribution. Shot in Wallingford, it centers on an adolescent coping with his mother's death and a distant, disapproving father.
Cinema 9 in South Burlington is up for sale, as the Australian Hoyts chain reportedly plans to drop all its American theaters. Merrill Jarvis -- who owns the Roxy, Ethan Allen, Showcase and Majestic 10, a Williston work-in-progress -- says he's not interested in buying the Shelburne Road venue.