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Babes, Books and Backcountry 

Flick Chick

Just as the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider Anna Nicole Smith's appeal, the blonde celebrity was in Vermont last week wrapping up a movie. In Illegal Aliens, a sci-fi spoof directed by David Giancola, she portrays a supermodel from outer space fighting sinister, otherworldly forces on Earth.

"Anna Nicole is very funny playing a ditz," Giancola says. "She's a Method actress."

Be that as it may, Smith will appear as herself -- a former Playboy Playmate who at age 26 married an octogenarian Texas oil tycoon -- in front of the Supremes. In a prolonged legal battle with her step-son, she is seeking $88.6 million from her late husband's estate.

Giancola hopes Smith's case can translate into good publicity for the film. "I suspect we'll have no trouble getting distribution as a major theatrical release," he suggests, adding that his goal is to precede the widow's early 2006 court date.

Timing is everything. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Hallmark Channel postponed last month's scheduled broadcast of Landslide, another project from Giancola's Rutland-based Edgewood Studios. "There's no flood, but the movie has a kind of refugee situation following a catastrophe," he notes. "I agree with Hallmark's decision. We don't want to contribute to people's pain."

Variety's recent announcement that Disney is planning a Bridge to Terabitha film was news to the 1977 book's author. But Katherine Paterson of Barre is philosophical. "It's been bouncing around for a long time," she says of her award-winning novel about the fanciful friendship of two children, which became a 1985 movie on PBS.

Terabitha has frequently been among the top 10 banned books because, according to Paterson, the young male protagonist often says "Lord" and his father says "hell." Christian fundamentalists have also objected to what they see as a New Age sensibility. "It managed to get back on the [censorship] list last year," she points out. "For a while, Harry Potter was filling all the slots."

Although her book is set in Virginia and Paterson has no idea where the big-screen version will be shot, she wouldn't mind if it turned out to be New Zealand. "I've been there four times and I'm happy to help their economy," she says. "But I'm also always happy to help the Vermont economy."

Last March two University of Vermont graduates launched a business to make movies about their favorite sport. "Our Meathead Films is the only company in the East that focuses on backcountry skiing," explains photographer and marketing guru Christopher James, 24. This week he and partner Geoff McDonald, a 23-year-old director and editor, will premiere their Burlington operation's latest efforts.

Born From Ice, which James calls "a light-hearted, goofy highlight reel" of action on the slopes, will unspool October 7 at UVM and October 8 at Middlebury College. Epoch, a more traditional documentary that features archival footage and follows seven friends skiing the region's highest peaks, is booked at UVM on October 9. See Seven Days Calendar for details.

"We shoot each winter, edit over the summer and tour in the fall," James says. "This month and next, we're making 45 stops in college towns from Maine to Maryland. Then, after Thanksgiving, we go out to ski resorts -- including in Quebec and Ontario. We're riding a wave right now."

When Jonathan (Elijah Wood) visits the Ukraine to trace his grandfather's roots in Everything is Illuminated, the young man unwittingly explores a profound but hidden chapter of the Holocaust. Adapted by director Liev Schreiber from Jonathan Safran Foer's quasi-autobiographical novel with the same title, this quirky, lovely film opens Friday, October 14 at the Roxy in Burlington.

Jonathan is an impassive guy who collects memorabilia to understand the nature of his secretive family and, by extension, his own identity. The journey puts him under the aegis of an outlandish tour guide named Alex (New York musician Eugene Hutz, a Ukrainian refugee who initially resettled in Burlington). Even though his own view is that "the past is past," he takes American Jews out in a battered Trabant car with a logo depicting the Star of David to search for information about their ancestors in the former Soviet republic. The driver, Alex's sullen grandfather (Boris Leskin), insists on bringing along the ill-tempered dog he calls Sammy Davis Jr., Jr.

As their trip unmasks the country's collective memory of anti-Semitism, Jonathan finds much more than he ever anticipated. For Alex, a delightful character with joie de vivre and a tentative grasp of English, it's a life-altering revelation.

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