Friday, August 17, 2007

Vermont filmmaker brings latest film to the world

Independent filmmaker Jay Craven has been on the road with his latest film "Disappearances" for nearly a year and a half, crossing not only the country, but the globe. In the fall he will continue his national and international tour, but first is a stop off at the Claremont Opera House for a screening Friday Aug. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

"We are looking forward to it," said Craven who will be on-hand to introduce "Disappearances" and lead a post-screening discussion of the film. "The opera house is a great facility. It is a facility the community knows and embraces and for us it is one of the bigger dates on the tour because it is a big hall and a community where some of its audience spills into Vermont."

Tickets for the screening are $9 general admission and $8 for seniors.

The Claremont stop is part of a 50-town tour of Vermont and New Hampshire. The film, like all of Craven's films, was shot in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and northern New Hampshire.

"The film comes from the region, so therefore it is important to go beyond the traditional distribution system to play it in the region," Craven said.

"Disappearances" is a North Country tale of high-stakes whiskey-running along the Vermont Canadian border during the Prohibition of the 1920s.

The film stars Kris Kristofferson, who told Craven the screenplay was the best he had ever read, as Quebec Bill, an impossible dreamer and schemer who turns to whiskey running after a freak lightning storm destroys his barn.

The picture also features Academy Award nominee Genevieve Bujold ("King of Hearts," "Anne of a Thousand Days"), Gary Farmer ("Smoke Signals"), William Sanderson ("Deadwood"), Lothaire Bluteau ("Black Robe"), Luis Guzman ("Traffic"), and 15-year-old Charlie McDermott in his debut role.

"This film has magic and mystery and ghosts and is a bit of a tall tale and is a bit of caper and the character of Quebec Bill is more fun than the character of Noel Lord in (my first film) 'Where the Rivers Flow North' and so it has struck a different chord (than my previous films), but it has struck a chord."

Craven has found that "Disappearances," which is the third in a trilogy of "Vermont frontier films," is the film that engages him the most of all his work.

"It certainly has an appeal that is unlike any of the other pictures (I've done) and it is also a film that has worked on me more than any of the other pictures. I can find layers of themeing and resonance and personal relevance to the picture."

"Disappearances" has not only played small towns throughout New England, but big cities across the country including New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Ithaca and Dallas.

"It is a big country, so you just keep it going," said Craven, who in the coming months will be taking the film to Baltimore, Denver, Portland, Maine and Portland, Ore.. For an independent film it is about giving a film time to find an audience Craven said.

Unlike a Hollywood film with a marketing budget of at least $50 million, an independent film is working "under the radar" and has to work much harder at getting exposure.

"There's no question for an independent filmmaker that keeping it out on the road and trying to bring it to life in various settings is how you give it life."

Craven's time on the road has paid off with the film getting rave reviews from Variety, the Boston Globe and New York Times. "Disappearances" is also Craven most successful film since his debut with "Where the Rivers Flow North."

"Of the films I've made those are the two films that have gone the furthest. 'Where the Rivers Flow North' in its first wave of video release sold 35,000 copies at a higher price than what currently is the market DVD. This film ('Disappearances') has sold 60,000 copies."

Craven and "Disappearances" were also selected to be part of the American Film Institute (AFI) 20/20 Project which is a cultural exchange program sending nine American filmmakers and 11 international filmmakers around the world to show their work.

"It grows out of a long held desire for cultural exchange and a recent understanding that the United States needs to stimulate more positive interaction with other countries," said Craven of the project which is sponsored by American cultural agencies including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the President's Commission for the Arts and Humanities and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Craven believes that the strained international relations that have developed since the Iraq war made it clear to the current administration that something needed to be done to create common ground and understanding between countries again.

In the fall Craven and "Disappearances" will visit Israel and Palestinian territory, Venezuela and China. The film has already screened in South Africa and England where it was well received. Although the foreign rights for his other films have been sold and his work screened at international film festivals this is the first time Craven has traveled with his films.

"In South Africa the film played pretty well because the way South Africans responded to it was to say: 'we communicate with our ancestors, our ancestors are present and we see that as a theme in the film and we can relate to that.'"

Although still busy touring with "Disappearances" Craven is already looking toward his next project, but as an independent filmmaker it is always a struggle.

Independent is a buzz word right, with films like "Brokeback Mountain," "History of Violence" and "Capote" being slapped with the indie label, but according to Craven while these are well made films that challenge audiences to think outside the mainstream box they aren't true independents.

"The way that kind of filmmaking becomes the new independent - which is not really independent, it is studio money - makes the real independent at a disadvantage."

Studio independents, as Craven calls them, come from specialty production companies owned by the studios that have "many more resources available and more talent they can attract."

But Craven has been lucky so far at attracting big names for his films. Throughout the years he has secured the likes of Michael J. Fox, Rip Torn and Martin Sheen.

"I think for actors that work seriously and want to be challenged and want to remain active even when they may no longer be the hottest name in town, that those are the actors you can get to sometimes."

Still at the end of the day it is a lot of luck, who you know and good timing that helps land bigger names.

"In the case of Michael J. Fox in the first picture, it was a friend of mine restoring his old Vermont farm house in South Woodstock, Vt."

But now, looking ahead casting for the next project, Craven is stumped.

"I am trying to cast a new movie and in some ways it is like starting from scratch, I don't know exactly what to do. I'm researching which actors might be right for it and which actors because of their own circumstance may take an interest in it. You don't go about pitching Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. You're just not going to get through."

What this new project will hold is still unclear, but while the old project still has legs, Craven will keep traveling with it. After all, you never know who is watching.

"Part of the reason we go and fight very hard in distribution is to demonstrate to the actors that we will stand behind the picture and we'll get it out there. That helps us a bit because that means the films have been seen, they are known to a certain extent by the acting community."