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Flick Chick 

Published March 27, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

Many people believe that today’s Islamic fundamentalists are on a par with 20th-century Nazis, and that liberating Kabul is akin to conquering Berlin. The battles of Operation Enduring Freedom, the thinking goes, carry much the same significance as D-Day or Iwo Jima. With the memory of 9/11 still palpable, terrorism seems as heinous as fascism. So, is it unpatriotic to dissent in a time of such American unity?

That question has eluded an easy answer, both now and back in the 1940s. The issue is examined in The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It, a documentary about conscientious objectors that Vermont Public Television will air at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27 and again on March 31. The one-hour film by Rick Tejada-Flores and Judith Erlich — who earned their master’s degrees at the University of Vermont — zeroes in on nine of World War II’s 42,000 draft resisters. Peace activist Dave Dellinger, who now lives in Montpelier, was one of them.

“Most important social change begins when somebody says no,” suggests Stephen Cary, a Quaker interviewed for the film about his experiences as a pacifist while 16 million other young men agreed to bear arms.

The rebels drew on their ethical or religious beliefs, a “thou shalt not kill” approach to the military. In 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, Dellinger was among 20 Union Theological Seminary students in New York refusing to even register, in protest of the first compulsory peacetime conscription in U.S. history.

This was not a popular thing to do. A Boston Brahmin who dropped out of Yale during the Depression to follow a Francis of Assisi-like spiritual path, Dellinger recalls on camera that his father threatened suicide if he persisted in shaming the family. Angry crowds jeered as eight of the seminarians walked into a Manhattan court, which sentenced them to a year in prison.

Later arrested again for the same “crime,” Dellinger and others held hunger strikes in a federal penitentiary to demand an end to racial segregation of the inmates. Two of his comrades behind bars, Bill Sutherland and Carlos Cortez, had even spurned an opportunity to do civilian alternative service. About 12,000 of the country’s COs accepted this option, which often meant detention in remote work camps. Another 23,000 chose to go overseas as noncombatant medics or ambulance drivers.

Although a fascinating hidden legacy is revealed, The Good War feels rushed and incomplete. Cortez confesses that he’d be willing to shoot Hitler if given the chance, but not the Fuhrer’s foot soldiers. It would have been interesting, in this age of Osama bin Laden, if the filmmakers had more thoroughly explored the conundrum: How do nonviolent people of conscience confront abject evil?

bard scrabble: The Stuff of Dreams, screening this Saturday at the Green Mountain Film Festival in Montpelier, is a quaint little time capsule of the late 1960s and early ’70s. That’s when an unknown number of flatlanders relocated to a mountainous rural state relatively unchanged since the beginning of the century. Expressive hippies were suddenly ensconced next door to phlegmatic dairy farmers.

As Watergate unfolded, Brattleboro-area filmmakers Alan and Susan Dater and John Scagliotti decided to shoot a cinematic chronicle of this counterculture invasion in southern Vermont. The specific locale was Packer Corners, a decade-old Guilford commune with an annual summer tradition of presenting Shakespeare in outdoor settings.

In the film, director John Carroll speaks in theatrical, pear-shaped tones and seemingly wills a no-budget daylight production of The Tempest into being. He also appears as Prospero, leading a cast of amateur actors, dancers, singers and musicians performing original tunes.

Among the thespians is Shoshana Rinh, the most intensely analytical communard. As Patricia Swinton in 1969, she was part of a loose-knit and lunatic New York City collective linked to anti-establishment bombings. She fled when the FBI closed in, living underground for a few years until the law caught up with her at the Guilford house. Rinh-Swinton was ultimately acquitted.

Wearing more stagecraft than politics on its Elizabethan sleeve, the play is an ambitious group effort: Prospero’s sorcery-induced, albeit symbolic, storm shipwrecks a graceful boat gliding down a real-life river. The stranded passengers find themselves caught up in revenge, redemption or romance on a mystical island, which the talented Tempest crew has constructed aboard a massive wooden raft.

Around the same time that Bread & Puppet started up in Glover, an audience of about 1000 lpeople sits on a grassy slope in Guilford, appreciating the neighborliness that can transpire when art happens. The Stuff of Dreams captures it all.

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Susan Green


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