Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Novices Hew a Rough-Edged Film Making Films in Rural Vermont, Caledonia Pictures Challenges the Hollywood Machine

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Novices Hew a Rough-Edged Film Making Films in Rural Vermont, Caledonia Pictures Challenges the Hollywood Machine

Article excerpt

WHEN Jay Craven and Bess O'Brien began full-time work on a feature film set in Vermont's remote Northeast Kingdom three years ago, they were hoping to realize a long-held dream.

Both husband and wife had spent many years in the state's thriving arts and theater community - he as director of Catamount Arts, based in St. Johnsbury, and she as founder of the Vermont Ensemble Theater in Middlebury. They had in mind making films rooted deeply in their region, not just in subject matter, but talent, finances, and audience support too.

"Where the Rivers Flow North," the first feature-length production by their company, Caledonia Pictures, is the offspring of their efforts. It has played for the last three months to full theaters in its home state and in neighboring New Hampshire and upper New York State, despite knee-deep snow and sub-zero temperatures.

It got mixed but generally favorable reviews during a brief opening in New York City (advertising and theater costs were too high to keep it there very long, Mr. Craven says), and it will venture into the Boston area tomorrow at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Mass.

While they're as aware of reviews as any filmmakers, this movie's director, Craven, and producer, Ms. O'Brien, seem above all satisfied that they actually pulled it off - and that the film meets their own criteria for authenticity. " `Rivers' is the movie I visualized," says Craven, seated in the living room of their ancient red clapboard farmhouse, which doubles as headquarters for Caledonia Pictures. Their toddler son Jasper crawls into O'Brien's lap, clearly heading toward nap time.

Craven's plan to make a film based on Howard Frank Mosher's short novel, "Where the Rivers Flow North" (Penguin Books), was set in motion in 1986 when he optioned filmmaking rights to the book, which cost him $1,500 a year. "True, it was a leap of faith - wouldn't it be nice to make this into a movie?" he reminisces.

Mosher's story is set in the northeast corner of Vermont, right on the Canadian border. That sparsely populated part of the state is known to Vermonters as the Northeast Kingdom, or simply "the Kingdom." The main characters are Noel Lord, a towering former logging-crew foreman who sees his way of life slipping away, and Bangor, his "housekeeper" or common-law wife.

The action revolves around Lord's struggle against a utility company that wants to buy his land and build a dam on it. The stars are Rip Torn, an actor with a long string of film and theater credits, and Tantoo Cardinal, one of Canada's best-known actresses and an American Indian.

The whole project was in fact "a big leap," O'Brien says. She had never produced a film before, only theater, and was at first shocked by the "chaos" involved. "There's no straight line. You can be doing the last scene first. …

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