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In The Spiderwick Chronicles, Mary-Louise Parker appears as a rural New England mom whose kids encounter "faeries" and ogres. This Paramount film, shooting in Québec from mid-September through late January, is a sort of cinematic trompe l'oeil. When the movie opens during Christmas 2007, audiences may think they're witnessing what the script describes as "an unspecified Vermont town."

Look for syrup from St. Johnsbury's Maple Grove, fake Green Mountain State license plates - and a genuine Seven Days distribution rack. A Ben & Jerry's scoop shop on the set has a local pedigree but resembles those found worldwide these days. "We've also got an L.L. Bean store," explains Nutan Khanna, the production's product placement coordinator.

Hmm, isn't the outdoorsy clothing company actually in Maine? Khanna concedes that fact, adding hopefully: "We have a Verizon phone booth."

Which might be anywhere in the Northeast. Oh, well. The motion picture's heart seems to be in the right place, even if its money isn't.

After contacting the Vermont Film Commission a year ago to ask about possible financial breaks, Paramount officials never called back. "The studio was just running numbers," suggests Executive Director Danis Regal.

The numbers apparently looked better up north. Hollywood often eschews geographic realism in favor of generous Canadian tax incentives. Ormstown, an Anglo community southwest of Montréal, is sitting in for the equivalent of a Vermont hamlet.

Adapted from a series of books for youngsters aged 9 through 12, the film centers on a family that experiences phantasmagoria aplenty after moving to the dilapidated Spiderwick Estate.

Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland) portrays adolescent twin brothers; Sarah Bolger (In America) inhabits the role of their sister. David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) shows up as Arthur Spiderwick, the estate's mysterious scion. The director, Mark Waters, has Freaky Friday on his resume. And the freaky supernatural creatures in Chronicles come courtesy of special effects.


The Key Sunday Cinema Club is gearing up for an October 1 launch of its fall/winter season at the Roxy in downtown Burlington. The biweekly morning sessions offer sneak previews of unreleased art-house fare, lively discussions and periodic guest speakers. In the past, Oscar contenders such as Sideways and Tsotsi have premiered here weeks or months before their official debuts. The first selection will be Elizabeth, starring Helen Mirren as the current British monarch, grappling with the death of Princess Di. Call 888-467-0404 or visit for more information.


Queen City resident Martha Penzer has led a rather peripatetic life since graduating from Simmons College three decades ago as an American studies and education major. The half-hour documentary "Bosnia After the War" catches up with the 53-year-old Boston native in Sarajevo, where she taught university-level English composition in 1999 and 2000. A free 7 p.m. screening of the film, which was directed by Nancy Burnett, will take place on Saturday at the Burlington Friends Meeting House on North Prospect Street.

Before Penzer's sojourn in the embattled Balkans, she focused on world religions at Indiana's Earlham College; worked as an international student advisor at the Pratt Institute in Manhattan; managed a Quaker study center in Washington, D.C.; taught in Korea and Slovenia; and, in the mid-1990s, trekked through Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

That journey - partly with a group organized by Buddhist monks to commemorate the end of World War II a half-century earlier - tapped into Penzer's personal legacy. "I'm a child of Holocaust survivors who were Polish Jews," she notes. "My father was in Auschwitz-Birkenau. My mother escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto with false papers that allowed her to pass as a Catholic. We were raised with the consciousness that you have to do something to help others, especially civilians caught in the maw of war."

Penzer went to Sarajevo on a grant from the Open Society Fund, founded by liberal philanthropist George Soros. She helped some of her 200 students self-publish a collection of their emotionally charged essays. Burnett, her former Beantown roommate who now lives in upstate New York, uses these writings as a template to examine Bosnia's problems.

Back in the United States, Penzer earned a library science degree from Simmons. In 2004 she found a job in that field at an Ohio Quaker boarding school, but this June "a sweetheart" in Vermont persuaded her to relocate.

For the moment, her globetrotting is on hold. "Fundamentally, I'm a homebody," Penzer says. "So it surprises me a great deal that I've been so hither and thither."

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