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A Stand by Me for the 21st century, Twelve and Holding may help explain why poltergeists often choose prepubescents for their otherworldly mischief: A child on the threshold of adolescence is a powder keg. Only one year older and it's "thar she blows," as Catherine Hardwicke made abundantly clear in 2003's Thirteen. But at age 12, confusion, rebellion and feisty hormones are already festering.

The three pre-teen friends in Michael Cuesta's sophomore feature, opening this weekend at Palace 9 in South Burlington, experience profound changes after a collective tragedy in their suburban community. Rudy (Conor Donovan) is accidentally killed when local bullies torch his tree house in the woods to retaliate for an earlier encounter. The death fuels a family meltdown that torments Rudy's twin brother Jacob (also Donovan), who wears a hockey mask to hide an enormous birthmark on his face.

Although overweight Leonard (Jesse Comacho) has survived the conflagration, his gluttonous parents are outraged by the boy's sudden desire to exercise and eat nothing but apples. Meanwhile, an enamored Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) begins stalking Gus (Jeremy Renner), a depressed former firefighter being treated by her psychotherapist mother (Annabella Sciorra).

Twelve and Holding wants to wring humor from cliched fat jokes about Leonard's hefty clan and the cringe-inducing scenes of Malee trying to seduce a grown man. To drive home the movie's pyrotechnic theme ad nauseam, the girl continually listens to "Burnin' for You," by Blue Oyster Cult, in her obsessive pursuit of Gus. Emotionally abandoned by their parents, these kids are not all right. Cuesta's hyper-real black comedy allows cheap laughs to subvert understanding and compassion for his troubled tweens.


At the same venue, an even younger demographic seems to be the target audience for a slate of free summer matinees. At 10:30 on Wednesday mornings, the Palace 9 is unspooling Hollywood family fare: July 5, Yours, Mine & Ours; July 12, Curious George; July 19, Nanny McPhee; July 26, Madagascar; August 2, Dreamer; and August 9, Cheaper by the Dozen.


Social and environmental concerns are the bailiwick of 14 young adults participating in the University of Vermont's second annual Summer Integrated Media Studies Institute, a 5-week course that ends this week. A showcase of their short digital videos, including one or two works-in-progress, will take place at 5 p.m., Thursday, in the Billings Center's CC Theater.

"After leaving the program, students will be able to handle film projects from start to finish," says Lynn Gregory, an assistant professor in the community development and applied economics department. "They now know about framing a story and agendasetting."

The initial agenda involved asking random strangers to explain why they love Burlington. Gregory's colleague Thomas Gillespie, a visiting professor from the University of Indiana, says the on-camera exercise produced some interesting results.

"One guy shot in a room with a candle for lighting," he notes. "We ended up looking at a black screen."

The entire group eventually settled on ideas for longer projects. For his profile of Grace Potter, an emerging UVM filmmaker drove to Ohio because the Vermont singer didn't have any current local gigs. The only fictional effort, which Gillespie has dubbed "Surfer Dudes," is a mockumentary about a California guy who moves to the Green Mountain State "to become one with the wood" used in crafting old-fashioned surfboards.

The cinematic output includes docs about a recent New Hampshire motorcycle rally and a Queen City street musician with substance-abuse problems. "I suggested the student view this man as if he's Bob Dylan," Gillespie recalls.

A five-person team looked at the controversial Farmer Protection Act, which Governor Jim Douglas vetoed in May. The bill would have held manufacturers of genetically modified seeds liable for any damages their products might cause.

This film was a bit of an inside job for 20-year-old Maryland resident Hilary Depman, a senior majoring in public communication. "I'm from a large Fairfield dairy farming family," she acknowledges. "My aunt is Senator Sara Branon-Kittell (D-Franklin County), chair of the agriculture committee. My grandfather and great-grandfather were also Vermont senators."

Senior Meg Sullivan, 22, a political science major from Waterbury Center, learned how to maintain objectivity when covering a hot topic. "The film has to be informational, not propaganda," she points out. "It's a challenge to keep our own biases in check."

Depman says she's undecided in the natural-versus-engineered debate: "I'm pretty torn, but everyone else is fairly opinionated on both sides of the issue."

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