Sense of Community in `Rivers'

Article excerpt

IT is one of those rare spring days when Washington city is at its most beautiful, and Vermont film maker Jay Craven is nostalgic.

"I used to live here," he says, taking in the sights of Georgetown as he ambles toward the Potomac River - "1970 to '71."

College? you wonder. Government family? Military brat?

Nope.

"I was a full-time anti-war activist," says Craven.

It was no small time in his life - and not only for the obvious reasons. Raised by his grandparents, Craven grew up more or less alone and had always longed for a place where he felt at home, a community. He discovered both in the anti-Vietnam War movement, as well as something equally valuable: his ability to organize and make things happen.

These days he is still leading a charge - and still extolling the virtues of community. But now his venue is a feature film, "Where the Rivers Flow North," a made-in-Vermont opus funded mostly by Vermonters, set against a singular time and place in the state's history.

Craven, 42, and his co-producers are distributing the movie too. Encouraged by the buzz at the recent Sundance Film Festival, which gave it two extra screenings, the team turned down eight distribution offers that seemed too limited.

"We want to see it play across the country," Craven says, "at least in every town in New England and New York with a movie theater."

The film has opened cautiously to appreciative reviews, first in Vermont, New Hampshire and upstate New York, then two art houses in Boston. Since then it's been getting released gradually elsewhere. It opened in St. Louis Friday.

Taken from a novella by Vermonter Howard Frank Mosher, and a screenplay by Craven and Don Bredes, the movie tells the story of an old Vermont logger and his Native American housekeeper-companion and their battle in 1927 to survive the construction of a big hydro-electric dam that threatens to flood their land.

The logger, Noel Lord (Rip Torn), is defiant - no amount of money will buy his lifetime lease and livelihood. His companion, Bangor (Native American actress Tantoo Cardinal), is more pragmatic.

Craven, who also directed, has lived almost 20 years in the poor, rural country where much of "Rivers" was filmed.

"I wanted to be in a place where there was a stronger sense of community," he says of his decision to leave New York. "And I was interested in the challenge of mingling with people unlike myself. …