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Man with a Planet 

Flick Chick

Published September 29, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

Perhaps filmmaker John O'Brien, who's running for reelection as Tunbridge justice of the peace, should woo voters by revealing his record of offbeat nuptials. This winter, he presided over the quirky union of fellow cineastes from Massachusetts: indie producer Amy Geller and Gerald Peary, a critic for the Boston Phoenix who's also a professor at Suffolk University.

"It was Leap Day, February 29," Peary explains, "But, more importantly, it was the date of the Oscars."

He first met O'Brien -- best known for a trilogy of "anthropological comedies," including 1998's Man With a Plan -- when the Vermonter screened Nosey Parker last year at Boston University. "We went out to dinner and John mentioned in passing about being a JP. My ears perked up," Peary says. "Amy and I wanted to get married but felt depressed at the thought of having thousands of relatives there."

Instead, the event was a far more intimate gathering with four people on the back porch of Chelsea's Shire Inn. "It was freezing," he recalls. "We read our vows. John did a quick little talk. Then we went to his place and he showed us his sheep." (O'Brien's third occupation is tending generations of woolly ruminants on the farm where he was raised.)

The couple's honeymoon, with O'Brien along for the ride, consisted of a brief trip to the New Hampshire home of a famously reclusive writer. "We looked at J.D. Salinger's house and took photos of his mailbox," Peary admits. "I can't imagine a more perfect way to begin a marriage."

Not all newlyweds celebrate as cheerfully. Last weekend, O'Brien tied the knot for a member of the National Guard who will soon head to Iraq. On Valentine's Day, the groom was a Marine also bound for the Persian Gulf; a few months later, he was wounded.

Despite his active JP role, O'Brien remains unhitched. In July 2001, People magazine named him one of America's top 50 bachelors. Could be that his approach to film is so arduous that there's no time for a bride. Nosey, Plan and 1993's Vermont Is for Lovers -- indeed! -- have all been low-budget, hardscrabble features.

O'Brien refers to his ambitious new project as "an environmental Dr. Strangelove," although its working title is merely The Green Movie. He says End of Nature author and Middlebury College scholar-in-residence Bill McKibben will star as a teacher who asks his class to find sustainable ways to "leave lighter footprints" in their town.

The combined public-private Sharon Academy will provide additional cast members; high school students and their parents will be tapped to play themselves. In yet another career, O'Brien coaches debate and leads a writing lab there. He expects the production to unfold over the course of a year in an open-ended process.

"I have no artificial plot in mind. Whatever happens, happens. But it has to be funny. Films about ecology tend to be dreadfully earnest. I want irreverence," O'Brien suggests, adding that The Green Movie idea may be unique. "This is something I haven't really seen before. I think there's no real prototype out there. It's a not-for-profit, educational effort. We can go after contributions rather than investments, and apply for grants."

Meanwhile, O'Brien, who has served as JP off and on since 1994, is busy launching wedded bliss for the multitudes. In August his pairing of two prominent people even made it into the "Vows" column of The New York Times. Some other matrimonial ventures are a bit more idiosyncratic.

"I'm doing a medieval-themed wedding tomorrow," O'Brien says. "It'll probably involve accountants dressed as jousters and archers, maybe with lots of mead and ax-throwing. But I guess I won't have to wear chain mail."

Michael Wisniewski of Hinesburg is just back with five pals from his annual pilgrimage to the Toronto International Film Festival. One evening, the guys in their group crashed the "Ladies Night" spectacle at a crowded male strip joint.

"We pretended we were part of John Waters' entourage and waltzed right in," Wisniewski writes, referring to the openly gay director of A Dirty Shame -- now playing at the Roxy in Burlington.

In a blur of well-endowed anato-mies, men clad only in underpants offered lap dances. "John Waters acquiesced," reports Wisniewski, an architect whose firm is located in Burlington. "The next day, between films, I bought four pairs of shoes in a kind of metrosexual frenzy."

The Burlington architect suggests that a more pleasing nocturnal adventure, in Canada or anywhere else, would involve crossing paths with actress Naomi Watts.

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Susan Green


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