The twice-yearly White River Indie Film Series started out modestly in 2005, with low-key spring and fall showcases. Now it's really beginning to blossom. At this weekend's third edition, a few luminaries complement an eclectic mix of movies with something to say. "Our mission is to use the medium as a way to start discussions on social and cultural issues," explains Nora Jacobson, a Norwich filmmaker who co-directs the event. "But we're also interested in pushing the boundaries of cinema."
About 26 features, documentaries, shorts and animations are screening at two White River Junction locations: the historic Hotel Coolidge on Friday and the downtown Tip Top Cafe on Saturday and Sunday. "I think our selections are more edgy and provocative this time around," Jacobson says. Topics range from ecology to theology.
The Power of Nightmares,for example, is a BBC production that draws parallels between Islamic fundamentalists and American neo-cons. All three segments of the 80-minute doc are on tap Saturday morning, followed by a panel discussion that includes Boston Globe critic Ty Burr.
The military setting of Guy X, a black comedy similar to Catch-22 or M*A*S*H, invites comparisons with the contemporary U.S. war machine. The picture is based on No One Thinks of Greenland, a 2001 novel by John Griesemer of Lyme, New Hampshire. He'll be on hand for a benefit reception Friday evening, along with director Saul Metzstein, who's flying in from his native Scotland.
"A Lover's Quarrel With America," by Anne Macksoud of Woodstock, profiles William Sloane Coffin. It serves as a poignant tribute to the Strafford civil rights and peace activist who died last week at age 81.
Macksoud's "Birdsong and Coffee: A Wake-Up Call," about agricultural practices that devastate Central America's natural habitat, was already on the series roster. Other across-the-border sagas: "Between Midnight and the Rooster's Crow" traces the anatomy of a controversial oil pipeline in Ecuador; "Rosita" concerns a barely-pubescent Nicaraguan girl who seeks an abortion when she is raped.
The biographical closing-night film Be Here to Love Me focuses on the late Townes Van Zandt, a troubled Texas troubadour. On camera, many of his tunes are performed by Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris.
Music is also at the center of Existo, a 1999 cult classic that imagines right-wing Christians taking over the country. They ban singing and dancing. Think Footloose. A band of wacky rebels must fight for the right to party.
For more information, call (802) 649-3242 or visit http://www.wrif.org .
Have you noticed that the Palace 9 on Shelburne Road recently began showing art-house fare along with more mainstream movies? George Mansour, a Boston cineaste who books films for the theater, says he hopes to avoid duplicating the Roxy schedule. His most successful title to date in this category is the Oscar-nominated Duma, directed by Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion). It's been held over for weeks. This terrific drama about a boy who raises an orphaned cheetah cub is the highly fictionalized adaptation of How It Was With Dooms, a 1997 memoir by Alexander Hopcraft, now a Middlebury College senior. "I grew up in Kenya, not South Africa," he notes, pointing out one of the differences between real life and celluloid make-believe. "But it's still nice to have been able to share the story of my friendship and bond with Dooms, and have it be recreated into something people can enjoy."
"Young people are incredibly intuitive in this visual medium," suggests Joe Bookchin, who teaches in Burlington College's Department of Cinema Studies and Film Production. "I think of our students as being in the vanguard." The proof will be in the proverbial pudding during the school's annual film festival, unspooling a dozen short narratives at Higher Ground in South Burlington on Friday at 8 p.m.
Two works by Andrew Rosenthal, a 22-year-old senior from Essex, will be spotlighted: "Tent Below Freezing," a romantic comedy about friends "with a long history of making stupid bets," is his thesis project. "Toby's Last Resort," which he describes as "an experimental, dark dramedy with music," involves a father-son power struggle.
After graduating, Rosenthal plans to launch a company called Double Jointed Productions to craft commercials for local businesses and music videos for Vermont bands. Meanwhile, in addition to providing the off-campus debut of his current efforts, the fest will offer what he sees as "a chance to celebrate the moving image."