Friday, September 27, 2013

Collaborative Film: The Vermont Movie Tour

After years in development, Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie, a six-part collaborative documentary, begins a three month roadshow tour this weekend, with premiers and discussions scheduled across the state.

The six films synthesize the contributions of more than three dozen filmmakers and historians into an expressive, educational and occasionally provocative experience that explores the state’s unusual past and diverse contributions.

The Vermont Movie will tour the state from Sept. 27, 2013 to December 4, 2013. 

To promote dozens of screening locations and dates, the production has set up an online Tour Schedule

Gala Premieres in various Vermont counties will include catered receptions before the screening of Part One, and a Question & Answer session afterward. Screenings of Parts Two through Six will also include Q & A panels with Vermont Movie filmmakers and authorities on the content. 

Project coordinator and chief editor Nora Jacobson has spent years pulling together the pieces of this complex puzzle, shaping them into a thematically-driven narrative that is original, substantive and dramatic. The result is a series of films – each effective on its own – that explore the state’s nature over time through intimate portraits, indelible stories, dramatic recreations and interconnected topics.

Part One, titled A Very New Idea, examines the roots from which the future state grew. Samuel de Champlain steps into a canoe, paving the way for Yankee immersion into native culture. Along the way we see early settlements, native peoples’ resistance, and the little-known history of African American settlers.

Pioneer rebel Ethan Allen leads the struggle for independence, resulting in Vermont’s radical constitution – the first to outlaw slavery. Later, Vermont’s heroic role in the Civil War suggests that, despite occasional missteps, the state motto – Freedom and Unity – is especially apt.

As its title states, Part Two digs Under the Surface of the state’s bucolic image to explore labor wars, eugenics experiments, the McCarthy era, and progressive Republicanism. Covering almost a century -- post-Civil War to the 1950s — it chronicles the rise of unions and quarry work, Barre’s Socialist Party Labor Hall, the marketing of Vermont, the state’s reaction to New Deal policies, George Aiken's gentle populism, and Republican Ralph Flanders’ heroic stand against Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare. It also chronicles how emigrĂ©s from urban areas, “back-to- the-landers” like Helen and Scott Nearing and Nora Jacobson’s father came to Vermont in search of an alternative lifestyle.

Part Three, called Refuge, Reinvention and Revolution, begins in the mid-20th century, with political pioneers like Bill Meyer, a Congressman who challenged the Cold War, and Gov. Phil Hoff, whose 1962 victory set the stage for change. Innovation is reflected in the work of “talented tinkerers,” the rise of IBM, and the creation of the Interstate highways. But we see both the pros and cons, along with the high price of “eminent domain.”

Revolution was also in the air, and rare archival footage in Part Three provides a vivid look at the "hippies," the realities of communal life, and the paths of members of the counter-culture who established roots.

Titled Doers and Shapers, Part Four explores people and institutions that have pushed boundaries. Starting with education, it takes viewers on an engrossing journey through the philosophy of John Dewey, then to the hands-on style of Goddard College, the Putney School, and the inseparable connection between education and democracy. Exploring other progressive movements, Vermont’s billboard law, Act 250 and Bread and Puppet Theater, it concluded with touching moments from Vermont’s groundbreaking move toward gay marriage.

Part Five – Ceres’ Children – provides a deeper look at some of Vermont’s cherished traditions: participatory democracy and the conservation ethic, moving from the ideas of early environmentalist George Perkins Marsh to contemporary volunteer groups and movements.

Here The Vermont Movie captures 21st century debates over natural resources, then circles back in time to show how these concerns originate in the ethics of farmers, who depended on the natural world for their survival. The disappearance of dairy farms has raised tough questions explored in the film: How big is too big? How can Vermont survive in a world economy? And can it be a model for small, local and self-sufficient farming?

The final installment is called People’s Power, and tackles contemporary tensions over energy, independence, the environment and the state’s future. Chronicling the struggle to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, it shows the power of protest, the influence of lobbyists and the importance of town meeting debate and a citizen legislature. It also follows the battle over windmills in Lowell—a struggle over scale, aesthetics and environmental impacts—and explores thorny questions about economics, sovereignty and climate change.

Toward the end, the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irene reveal the power not only of nature, but of people and community.


Prior to this production Jacobson’s directorial credits included Delivered Vacant, a documentary exploration of gentrification in Hoboken, and two independent features, My Mother’s Early Lovers and Nothing Like Dreaming, both shot in Vermont. 

Early in the evolution of The Vermont Movie, Jacobson opted for an ambitious, collaborative approach. Each filmmaker or team could pick one or more topics to develop, with periodic opportunities to share work in progress with peers and discuss how various segments could relate to the film’s overarching focus – Vermont’s independent spirit over the centuries.

As originally submitted early segments varied widely in style and content, and also left significant gaps in the story. But as more sequences were shot, dozens of interviews conducted, and rare old footage was rediscovered Jacobson ultimately evolved an approach that is original, unifying and evocative.
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