Celebrating Vermont Indies
Written by Amy Souza | Posted by: Anonymous
In a state with only 600,000 residents, its easy to imagine that Vermont has no real film community. People from out of state–or flatlanders–are often surprised to learn that there is, as Jacobson says, "a really nice, small film community here that runs from Burlington to Bennington." For years, though, Vermont Public Television officials seemed not to recognize the talent in their own backyard.
As Kelly Luoma, vice president of programming and education services at VPT puts it, "Theres been an inconsistent history between VPT and the film community."
"Filmmakers were frustrated with VPT," says Loranne Turgeon, executive director of the Vermont Film Commission. "They couldnt really get in there. And though theyd do self-distribution, that didnt give [their films] a very wide reach."
The Film Commission boardespecially Founding President Bill Stetsonwanted to find a way to bring the filmmakers together with VPT. "Starting in 1997, we began talking to various VPT board members," he says. "But its really hard to initiate a new project like this."
Its not that Stetson met objections. In fact, he says, when the idea for a new indie film series was brought up at a VPT board meeting last year, everyone was enthusiastic. The two boards worked together to create a new series, Reel Independents: Vermonts Film Showcase. But, as Turgeon points out, "VPT doesnt have the financing that WBGH does," so the film commission is helping to pay filmmakers what Turgeon calls "a very, very small fee" for their work.
Reel Independents can certainly be seen as part of a trend to create a deeper bond between indie filmmakers and public television. PBS itself created a new department to act as a liaison with the independent film community. For Kelly Luoma, the series fits perfectly with her vision of how VPT can thrive despite the growing number of cable channels. "Look at the world of TV and how competitive its getting," she says. "And whats the one thing viewers cant find on A&E? Local programming."
She adds, "Wed aired independent films before, but they were hit or miss." The problem, she says, was simple: "They didnt get the publicity they needed."
In the past, VPT aired independent films as one-time only shows. Reel Independents, on the other hand, is a regularly scheduled series with a coveted Friday night at 9 p.m. slot. That makes it easier to build awareness. In fact, Reel Independents may indeed be a natural extension of promoting Vermonts cachet. The state is great at marketing itself and its products to the rest of the world and to its own residents (think green mountains, the fresh air, the hillsides dotted with peaceful, grazing cows). Three films have already aired as part of Reel Independents, and so far VPT viewers have responded favorably to the series, partially at least, because these storytellers are their own.
"People love the fact that these are homegrown films," says Stetson. "And theyd much rather watch [these] than a rerun of an old movie they can rent."
Reel Independents shows "Vermont films." For now, that definition is left purposely open. It means a film about Vermont, a film made by a Vermont filmmaker, or a film produced in Vermont.
"We wanted to keep it broad enough to give us a large scope of work," says Luoma. "But we want [the films] to be really relevant to viewers."
The Reel Independents jury–which consists of filmmakers, writers, journalists, and theater owners–met recently to choose the films for the upcoming year. Locking themselves up for 12 hours, they screened 20 films on one long but fruitful Saturday. The lineup spans a number of genres from documentaries and features, to experimental, short format, and animation.
"This is an opportunity for [both] emerging filmmakers and talent thats been here for years," says Stetson. And its also an opportunity for the audience to meet the people behind the films. "There are bookend interviews at the beginning and end of each nights screening. Every filmmaker will have the opportunity to shoot the interview their own way."
So what has Nora Jacobson learned from having "My Mothers Early Lovers" air in her home state? "After the showing I got a lot of email. I know that a lot of people saw the film," she says. "It really made me wise up to the power of TV." She pauses a few seconds, then adds, "Theres something about the intimacy of television that maybe makes for a more intimate experience." And, of course, "I hope that VPT continues to do this."
Visit the Vermont Public Television web site at http://www.vpt.org/.