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High Crimes 

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A grassroots endeavor about grass, Stash is an action-comedy Adam Abelson wrote, directed and produced for his Burlington College degree project. The May 2006 graduate describes this feature debut, shot primarily in Chittenden County, as "a satirical bastardization of the caper genre." A free 7:15 p.m. Club Metronome premiere on Tuesday, September 12, will include live music.

Abelson's pot plot follows four young people who unwittingly transport marijuana in their car, as they run afoul of drug dealers and undercover narcs. "These three groups play off each other," he explains.

The 86-minute Stash boasts songs from some 15 area bands, as well as an original instrumental score by Lobot. The rock group - drummer Dave Wendell is the film's cinematographer and co-editor - will play at the Metronome screening. Ditto for 2nd Agenda, a folk metal ensemble. Another act, Nose Bleed Island, consists of "one guy with a guitar and a cardboard robot," Abelson says.

On a budget of under $10,000, he recruited a local crew and cast. Some in the latter category were new to the art form; others, such as Grace Kiley and Rene Kirby, have professional credentials. "We needed people for a dozen large speaking roles and another dozen secondary parts," says Abelson, a Massachusetts native who plans to submit the finished film to festivals that opt for edgier stuff.

His screenplay has "the basic elements of storytelling, with protagonists, antagonists and mounting pressure," but Abelson acknowledges that the finished product is unabashedly profane: "If we were pushing the envelope in any way, it was with excessive swearing."

As Shakespeare once penned, "O! Thou hast damnable iteration." The Bard happens to be a literary inspiration for Abelson, who is currently adapting one of the playwright's great tragedies. Although he declines to specify the title, his script will be set in Vermont rather than Europe. With any luck, his work will endure "to the last syllable of recorded time."

*****

When Barbara McGrew and Daniel Fivel head to Canada this week, the Queen City couple will take in 20 of the Toronto International Film Festival's 352 motion pictures from 61 countries. Thailand, Turkey, Poland, Paraguay, Belgium and the Czech Republic are just a few of the places they'll visit vicariously during the event, which runs from September 7 through 16.

McGrew is on the board of the Vermont International Film Festival, a mid-October gathering that addresses issues such as war, human rights and the environment. That may be why so many of their Toronto selections have social significance.

At My Colonel, the pair can immerse themselves in France's un-winnable war against Algerian insurgents half a century ago. The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about an Irish popular uprising of the 1920s, is another must-see. McGrew and Fivel intend to catch Catch a Fire, a political thriller set in apartheid-era South Africa. Chronicle of an Escape concerns men fleeing a detention camp after Argentina's mid-1970s military coup.

McGrew hopes a documentary on her Toronto list - Barbara Kopple's Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, about the ensuing brouhaha when the trio lambasted a fellow Texan dubbed Dubya - will provide a golden opportunity. "I'd like to invite her to Burlington for our festival," she says.

Kopple is best known for the Oscar-winning docs Harlan County, U.S.A, (1976), a treatise on Kentucky coal miners, and American Dream (1990), about employees at a Minnesota meat-packing plant.

The idea of spending so many early fall days in a dark movie theater seems like heaven to the Brooklyn-born McGrew, 59. She met her first husband, fellow student David Bordwell, in a cinema class at SUNY-Albany. "Jules and Jim brought us together," McGrew recalls.

He went on to become a "preeminent American film scholar, and I worked as an organizer for the National Education Association," she says. "We would watch 30 or 40 films a month."

McGrew and her current spouse, a retired physics professor, moved from D.C., to Vermont after 9/11. She offered a Marx Brothers workshop at Burlington College in 2004, and is teaching a film noir class at the school this semester.

Although interested in topical fare, McGrew will have to skip two controversial films at the Toronto fest: From Germany, The Prisoner, or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair interviews a real-life Iraqi man tortured by both Saddam Hussein and U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib. Death of a President is a British mockumentary about the 2007 assassination of George W. Bush.

Can't blame that on the Dixie Chicks.

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