The bold new color painted on the exterior of Burlington College is Pacific Ocean Blue. On a hill overlooking Lake Champlain, the alternative liberal arts school with 150 students has also experienced a few recent changes within. Film courses, once mostly devoted to the basics, increasingly tackle more complex topics.
Last semester, Barry Snyder taught "Film as a Subversive Art." This fall he's offering "PoMo 101," which looks at the postmodern perspective in popular culture.
Mary Arbuckle is the instructor for "Citizen Filmmaking: The City as Symphony," in which amateur auteurs can create documentaries about their urban environment. This summer, her "Digital Ethnography" class in collaboration with the Vermont Folklife Center was an opportunity to profile the state's many refugee communities.
Ethnic identity comes into play again for "Middle Eastern Film," a subject that allows Peter Schweigert to screen work reflecting the diverse issues of that region. "Third World Cinema," periodically offered by various teachers, takes a similar approach.
Since 2000, the number of people choosing majors within the Cinema Studies and Film Production Depart- ment has risen from 22 to almost 30 percent of the student body. Others sign up for the same classes on an elective basis. The program's full-time and adjunct faculty has doubled in the last five years, a remarkable commitment to this academic field for such a small institution.
"It's been the engine of our growth," suggests Snyder, who chairs the department. "We're attracting the generation that was raised on visual media and really knows cameras."
Snyder hopes these film aficionados, often arriving with Hollywood tastes, will learn to question mainstream fare. "My mission is to bring consciousness about who determines what messages get out there," he notes. "The production courses our students take can be applied to whatever form they like: narrative fiction, experimental or documentary. The digital revolution means the tools are available to all."
During the past six months Jay Craven has attended seven film festivals in five states, traveling to Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massa- chusetts with his latest feature, Disappearances. At some of them, Craven narrowly escaped what he describes as the "courting rituals with distribution companies run by gangsters - you know you're going to get screwed."
While certain fests maintain a hierarchal hospitality system for their guests, June's Nantucket gathering "treats everyone equally, whether you're Paul Giamatti, Al Franken or me."
Those are two of the luminaries the 55-year-old Craven encountered while crisscrossing America with his third adaptation of a novel by Irasburg author Howard Frank Mosher. Kris Kristofferson, Rusty De Wees and Luis Guzman star in this tale of a hard-luck Prohibition farmer who resorts to smuggling whiskey. It's currently in a limited theatrical run at Essex Cinemas.
There's probably no more hands-on approach to promoting a movie than this: Craven's enterprise is now about 80 towns into a 100-town hall tour of Vermont that started in late June. Some 300 people turned out in Enosburg, 180 in Montgomery and 85 in Canaan. "These are real community events," he notes. "That's the fun of doing them. But we've put 10,000 miles each on two cars this summer."
Craven's outreach effort has grossed $128,000 to date, of which $22,000 will go to offset production costs. "The remainder covers marketing, postage and on-the-road expenses," he says. "This film had a $1.7 million budget, but I didn't get paid a nickel."
Financial pressures may ease if a potential distribution arrangement goes through with Magnolia Pictures, owned by sports entrepreneur Mark Cuban. The guy also operates the Landmark Theatres chain, which boasts 57 art houses around the nation that could book Disappearances.
In the midst of all this organized chaos, Craven has been polishing a screenplay to present next week at the Big Apple's Independent Feature Project Market. After submitting a draft of They Don't Dance Much in May, he was one of 40 finalists chosen from 150 applicants.
"We'll have meetings with financiers and distributors that could lead to a production deal," Craven explains. "My script is based on a 1940 novel about a robbery gone wrong by James Ross, a North Carolina journalist who only wrote one. It's country-noir."