Ask Ron Powers about his initial impression of Clint Eastwood when they met in California last week and the Castleton writer says, "It was a real gunslinger kind of handshake." The occasion, a glitzy reception following the Flags of Our Fathers world premiere, involved movie stars, a red carpet, frenetic paparazzi and - what really dazzled the Vermonter - "free shrimp cocktail" inside.
Eastwood, whose Million Dollar Baby earned four Academy Awards, also directed the new World War II epic. With two Oscars for Crash to his credit, Paul Haggis adapted Flags from a 2000 bestseller co-authored by Powers and James Bradley.
Buoyed by early favorable reviews, the opus opens nationwide Friday. Powers will introduce a special Castleton State College screening he calls "the people's premiere" at 2 p.m. on October 22.
The film focuses on six GIs who hoisted an American flag during a pivotal 1945 battle on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. Their effort was captured in the most famous photograph to emerge from the entire conflict. In a frenzy of patriotism back home, however, the three surviving soldiers found that iconic image to be a mixed blessing.
"They went on a cross-country tour to help the government promote war bonds," Powers explains. "The photograph was recreated again and again, at one stop even carved in ice cream. It was repellent. They were sudden celebrities, but the tour took an awful toll. Rene Gagnon was seduced by fame. Ira Hayes was traumatized."
Racism contributed to his downfall, according to Powers. Hayes, from Arizona's Pima tribe, "kept getting tomahawk jokes."
John Bradley, the only member of the military trio able to readjust to everyday life, never talked about the experience again. To him, the real heroes were the guys who didn't return. After he died in the mid-1990s, his son James "spent three years tracking down other Iwo Jima vets to understand what had taken place," Powers says.
Brought into the project by a Texas literary agent, Powers constructed a narrative based on James Bradley's research. Steven Spielberg optioned the book in 2001, but chose to stay on board only as a producer. Eastwood apparently felt a stronger connection to the material, which seems to avoid jingoism.
"Even though I'm antiwar," Powers says, "I will never look at people in uniform with anything but respect. It's a movie about brotherhood."
Call 468-1119 to reserve free tickets for the Castleton event.
Army of Shadows looks at a similar brotherhood from the same era. Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 drama about French Resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation was never seen in the U.S. until earlier this year. At 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, it plays the Savoy Theater in Montpelier as the initial selection of the venue's nine-weekend "Can't Wait 'Til March" series. Check out www.savoytheater.com  or call 229-0598 for more information.
Barbara McGrew, who is teaching a film noir course at Burlington College this semester, decided it might be fun to invite her first cousin to visit the class. This relative just happens to be Bryan Singer, director of such celluloid hits as X-Men and an executive producer for the TV show "House." On October 19 he'll be at the Waterfront Theatre for a free 8:30 a.m. presentation of his Oscar-winning The Usual Suspects. There'll be a Q&A at 11. Call 862-9616 for details.
Davy Russell isn't content to just host a Halloween party. Instead, the filmmaker plans to celebrate with "Drake Mountain," a Webcast that will add two 5-minute increments a day between October 23 and 27. Despite the title, he has been shooting his supernatural mockumentary on Richmond property that's merely hilly.
"It's based on an area that's really haunted, Glastonbury Mountain in the Bennington Triangle," notes the 2004 Burlington College graduate. "People have disappeared in the woods and there are reports of UFO sightings."
His unscripted thriller tracks a millionaire on a weeklong expedition with five fellow paranormal enthusiasts. The premise is that these characters, including a cameraman portrayed by Russell, are video-blogging their journey. The group includes a psychic, someone obsessed with extraterrestrials and a skeptic. For plot twists that drive the spooky story forward, the actors will tap into their improv skills.
"The Internet is a great place to show your work," contends Russell, 27, whose previous efforts have been offline. "And then it's on the Web forever."
To tune in, beginning Monday, visit http://www.drakemountain.com .
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