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Jay's Excellent Adventure? 

Flick Chick

The new satirical movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan seems to have a nonfiction counterpart in Jay Craven's visit to neighboring Turkmenistan in 1999. The Peacham writer-director went on a U.S. State Department-sponsored trip to the capital city of Asgabat, where a statue of President-for-Life Saparmurat Niyazaov rotates throughout the day to keep up with the sun's rays. Unfortunately, technology was less reliable in the venue that would be presenting Where the Rivers Flow North and Stranger in the Kingdom.

"The theater had ancient projectors, and the people running them said there were no aperture plates," Craven explains. "So you could see the microphones at the top of each frame."

Once he located a dust-covered aperture plate, Craven wound up operating the projector himself. So it's small wonder that, when two Turkmen filmmakers denounced him as an imperialist after the show, the normally even-tempered Vermonter was not so polite. "I said, 'I may be an imperialist, but at least I know how to run the fucking projector,'" he recalls.

This week Craven is in Los Angeles for the American Film Institute Festival, which is showing his latest, Disappearances - like most of his previous cinematic efforts, adapted from a novel by Irasburg author Howard Frank Mosher.

Next year, the AFI's Project 20/20 plans to join forces with the State Department and other organizations to send Craven around the globe. He and 19 fellow auteurs will head for countries in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.

The 20/20 films will be subtitled in each destination's local language. Craven wonders how Mosher's "colloquial dialogue" might come across in, say, Farsi.

"The tour is aimed at parts of the world that are the most troublesome for the Bush administration," Craven says. "Artists are expected to serve as cultural envoys."

Asked if that turns a longtime progressive like him into a tool of the White House, he laughs before acknowledging, "I guess so."

*******

And the winner is . . . Well, the Green Mountain Film Festival hasn't earned an Oscar. But the annual Montpelier event was tapped for a $5000 grant from a foundation run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The GMFF, which will take place next year from March 16 to 25, is one of 27 fests around the nation to receive this windfall. "It will not affect in any way our choice of films," assures Managing Director Donald Rae. "There are no strings attached."

For more info about the late winter extravaganza, visit www.Focusonfilm.net. Meanwhile, check out the GMFF-boosting "Can't Wait 'til March" weekly series at the Savoy Theater.

********

A recent story in Variety announced that filmmaker Bryan Singer has signed on for a sequel to Superman Returns, his 2006 action-adventure about the comic-book hero. But the Hollywood trade paper didn't mention where the 41-year-old director-producer nailed the deal: A Single Pebble, in Burlington, Vermont.

Singer's visit included an October 18 screening of The Usual Suspects - the 1995 thriller that catapulted him to fame - for the Burlington College film noir class taught by his first cousin, Barbara McGrew. The night before, he was dining at the Asian restaurant with 10 Vermonters when his cellphone rang.

After excusing himself from the table, Singer took the pivotal West Coast call outside. He returned about 20 minutes later, smiling, in time to enjoy what remained of McGrew's raspberry sorbet dessert.

*******

Jon Kilik , a 1978 University ofVermont grad, is among the three producers of Babel. The drama, which opens this weekend at the Palace 9 in South Burlington, comes from the writer-director-cinematographer team behind Amores Perros and 21 Grams: Guillermo Arriaga, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Rodrigo Prieto, respectively.

Like those earlier films, Babel has a narrative that is complex and not exactly chronological. It weaves through time and spans several continents, later linking everything together. When two young Moroccan boys foolishly shoot their father's rifle at a bus full of tourists, they accidentally injure an American woman (Cate Blanchett). Her husband (Brad Pitt) frantically searches for help in this remote region of North Africa.

Meanwhile, their own children back in California are whisked off to Mexico by the family's otherwise sensible housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) and her reckless nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal). Another story unfolding in Japan concerns a deaf teenager (Rinko Kikuchi) who struggles with loneliness.

Babel is only intermittently successful in conveying its message about miscommunication. But strong performances make the intense, 143-minute saga worthwhile.

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