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What's Up, Docs? 

Flick Chick

Vermont may be a rural state, but filmmakers here are anything but provincial. Rather, they continue to demonstrate an incredible geographic and topical reach. Alan Dater and Lisa Merton of Marlboro went back to Nairobi this summer to finish shooting Roots of Change: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, their profile of the Kenyan environmentalist who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. In February Jim Taylor and his wife Barbara Potter spent time with Muhammad Yunus, whose 2006 Nobel was announced last week. Formerly of Resolution Inc., the Burlington couple interviewed him for their as-yet-unnamed documentary about initiatives that help people in developing nations help themselves.

"It's really a film about hope," explains Taylor, a 1971 University of Vermont grad. "We looked at the issue of land titles in Peru, the fall of communism in Estonia, education in Ghana, and globalization in China. Yunus is a banker in Bangladesh who extends micro-credit loans to people so they can start little businesses. He gives them $85 with no collateral and no contract, but there's a 99-percent payback rate. And 56 percent of them have now climbed out of poverty."

Taylor has been in the industry for about three decades, often working with Potter on numerous commercials, TV programs and other docs. A piece for the Discovery Channel concerns air-freight operations. "That sounds like a boring subject, but it was amazing, " he reports. "For example, we focused on a shipment of 57 pregnant horses going from Kentucky to Japan. Apparently, every hour of every day there are horses in the air."

The human element in Taylor and Potter's current project has been even more compelling. "Two-thirds of the world's population don't have opportunities that we take for granted," he says. "In some of these almost feudal societies, I was blown away by the spirit and desire to succeed."

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A three-film series on Thursdays at 7 p.m. will celebrate the Fleming Museum's new James B. Petersen Gallery of Native American Cultures, named in honor of the late UVM anthropology professor.

October 16: The Business of Fancydancing, by Sherman Alexie, concerns a gay poet living in Spokane who confronts the past when he returns to his childhood home on the reservation to attend a friend's funeral.

November 16: Chris Eyre's Skins examines conditions on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation through the relationship between a conflicted tribal police officer and his self-destructive brother.

November 30: Powwow Highway, a poignant and funny 1989 road movie by Jonathan Wacks, follows two Cheyenne men on a trip from Montana to New Mexico. Buddy (A Martinez), an embittered Vietnam vet, has been struggling to save his community from a land grab. The idiosyncratic Philbert (Gary Farmer) has a more spiritual perspective; for him, the drive south is a quest to reaffirm a disappearing traditional identity. As the duo takes unplanned detours to a few sacred sites, he envisions their battered '64 Buick as a war pony dubbed "Protector."

New York Times critic Janet Maslin's review of Powwow observed, "These old friends cover a landscape of present-day disappointments and long-lost glory." Their journey, a symbolic ode to America's indigenous population, feels exhilarating nonetheless. Call 656-8582 for ticket prices or other information.

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"Never in a million years did we think that promoting world peace could be dangerous," writes Yoko Ono in a publicity brochure for The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which opens at the Savoy Theater in Montpelier this weekend.

The engrossing documentary, directed by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, chronicles the couple's five-year ordeal. Under orders from the White House, immigration officials kept trying to deport the former Beatle as an undesirable alien. He and Ono had become high-profile activists who recorded the movement anthem "Give Peace a Chance" during their 1969 honeymoon "bed-in" at a Montréal hotel.

Various talking heads recall that antiwar types were routinely targeted for outspoken criticism of the conflict in Vietnam. Noting FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover's "significantly different version of democracy," newscaster Walter Cronkite speculates that Richard Nixon put Lennon at the top of his infamous enemies list. In archival footage, the president refuses to announce a timetable for withdrawing troops from Southeast Asia, despite mounting casualties. Sound familiar?

This unabashed polemic pulls no punches. Gadfly author Gore Vidal suggests that, "Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death," whereas John Lennon "represented life." As "Instant Karma" booms over the closing credits, the beloved musician's belief that "we all shine on" might move even the most hard-hearted audience.

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