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Works in Progress 

Flick Chick

On the heels of a brief mention in May's Premiere magazine story about the Savoy Theater, Waterbury actor-dairy farmer George Woodard is now the sole subject of a Vermont Life profile that zeroes in on his new role as a filmmaker. Since shooting The Summer of Walter Hacks in 2004-05, he has edited about a quarter of the homegrown, black-and-white feature. But the demands of a 200-acre spread with 45 cows inevitably intervene in the process.

"From now till the end of June, I've got to fix some fences, get out the heifers and get the machinery ready for haying that finishes around the Fourth of July," explains Woodard, 53.

His 13-year-old son, Henry Woodard appears as one of two young brothers who struggle on their own after a family tragedy in the early 1950s. The agricultural coming-of-age narrative will ultimately cost between $7000 and $10,000.

"With such a small budget, you pretty much have to do it all yourself," Woodard says of his debut as a writer-director-cinematographer-editor. "This is like a big puzzle that's a lot of fun. You've actually made all the pieces and then you get to put it together."

*****

Another auteur at work on his latest project: John O'Brien, who will screen a trailer for The Green Movie at the Lake Placid Film Forum, taking place June 23 and 24. The Tunbridge resident expects to be there, along with his cinematographer/editor Art Bell of Burlington.

So will Irasburg novelist Howard Frank Mosher, author of Disappear-ances, which Jay Craven turned into a motion picture. It's the event's opening-night selection.

A guest such as Mosher underscores the event's reputation for spotlighting cinema with literary roots. Many authors of books that became movies -- Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient), Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty) and John Irving (Cider House Rules), for example -- have attended in past years. Russell Banks (Affliction) co-founded the Adirondack gathering in 2000 with Kathleen Carroll, the fest's artistic director.

The Green Movie is a semi-improvisational tale of high school students learning how to save the ecosystem. "We are about 60 percent done shooting with 300-plus hours in the can," Bell says.

Given all the Green Mountain State talent on tap, Carroll quips: "I think we should just call this the Vermont Film Forum."

****

Dramatizations of domestic abuse often include revenge: Farrah Fawcett plays a fed-up, battered woman in The Burning Bed, a 1985 TV drama; Julia Roberts confronts a monstrous husband in 1991's Sleeping With the Enemy. But Take My Eyes, opening this weekend at the Palace 9 in South Burlington, tackles the topic in more measured tones. To understand what motivates a wife-beater, co-writer/director Iciar Bollain employs empathy that should not be confused with forgiveness.

This intimate saga, set in the Spanish city of Toledo, observes how easily love can become a weapon. Pilar (Laia Marull) has never told anyone about her psychological and physical torment in a decade of marriage to Antonio (Luis Tosar), a possessive appliance salesman with a short fuse. When enough is finally enough, she and their son Juan (Nicolas Feranandez Luna) flee to the home of her sister Ana (Candela Pena).

Pilar's widowed mother Aurora (Rosa Maria Sarda) urges her to give Antonio another chance. The daughter resists at first, instead volunteering at a museum to establish a sense of independence. She develops an affinity for great works of art, which Antonio ridicules. He feels like a failure, so her potential success is threatening.

After unsuccessful attempts to woo Pilar back with promises, Antonio joins a consciousness-raising group run by a therapist (Sergi Calleja) who tries to persuade the assembled men that pummeling their wives is immoral as well as illegal. Few of them get it.

Ana, meanwhile, marries her gentle Scottish fiance (David Mooney) -- the very antithesis of Antonio. At a wedding replete with bagpipes and people in kilts, the groom's mother sings a mournful Celtic melody. This ballad from a different European culture seems to mirror what lies ahead for Pilar, who desperately wants to believe her rage-filled spouse can change.

Bollain handles the inevitable scenes of violence with restraint, which somehow renders them all the more horrific. Her uniformly strong cast makes each character compelling.

The film's title refers to Pilar and Antonio's foreplay ritual, pledging various body parts as a sign of devotion. Perhaps her mantra ought to be, "Take my eyes, but leave my soul the hell alone."

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