A summer celebration of Vermont filmmaking

Summer Cinema Slam returns to Brattleboro for another evening of movies and conversation

BRATTLEBORO — The Summer Cinema Slam is back!

On Saturday, Aug. 27, from 5:30 to 11 p.m., the Brattleboro Film Festival and Northern Routes Film Collaborative presents the second annual Summer Cinema Slam, an indoor/outdoor event with a lineup of Vermont-made films, live local music, food trucks, and summer brews.

Building on the success of last year's sold-out event, the Film Festival teamed up with the newly-formed Film Collaborative to stage this fundraiser for both organizations at the New England Youth Theatre in Brattleboro.

“A cinema slam is a mini-film festival, with everything happening all in one night,” explains Jennifer Latham, one of the event's organizers. “This year, we will be showing one feature and three short films for a lively mix of Vermont-made films.”

Summer Cinema Slam 2016 presents Ben Silberfarb's “Fire,” Erin Davis's “The Land,” George Woodard's “Bad Robbers,” and John O'Brien's comedy “Man with a Plan.” Like last year, most of the films will be followed by question and answer sessions with the filmmakers, a hallmark of this film-focused event.

Film, food, and music

Opening at 5:30 p.m. at the Youth Theatre, Cinema Slam gives early birds a chance to mingle or visit the food and beer vendors before the shorts program gets started at 6:15 p.m. After the showing of three short films, each a little under a half an hour, there will be an intermission around 8 p.m., followed by the feature film around 9 p.m.

During intermission on the Youth Theatre's lawn, live music will be provided by Riley Goodmote's Voetstap, who describe themselves as an “eclectic concoction of trombone-centric solo goodness.”

People will also have a chance to visit the food trucks, sample craft beers, or mingle with filmmakers.

Taste of Thai and Messers Mobile Melts will be offering an array of food, and free ice cream will be provided by the organizers. Like last year, the event will feature local beer and wine as well. This year's micro-brewery new to Windham County, J'ville Brewery from Jacksonville, will have several of their craft beer selections on tap. Wine by the glass from Honora Winery will be available for purchase.

“Summer Cinema Slam is such a wonderful, fun event,” says Merry Elder, president of the Film Festival. “And it's important to us because it gives an opportunity to highlight some choice local and Vermont made films and givethem their due.”

An eclectic array of styles

The first of the short films on the program is “Fire,” a narrative film from Ben Silberfarb of Norwich. Set in the snowy cold landscape of Vermont, it is a modern version of Jack London's short story “To Build a Fire.”

This will be followed by “The Land,” directed by Middlebury College professor Erin Davis. This documentary explores the nature of play, risk, and hazard, set in a Welsh adventure playground. Following the film, there will be a Q&A with guest speaker Morgan Leichter-Saxby, a Brattleboro resident and expert in Playwork, a theory and practice related to creating and sustaining play spaces for children.

The final film in the shorts program, “Bad Robbers,” is a black-and-white slapstick comedy that pays tribute to the silent film era. It was directed by Waterbury dairy farmer and film actor George Woodard, who starred in the 1993 film “Ethan Frome,” with Liam Neeson and Patricia Arquette.

This year's feature film is John O'Brien's celebrated 1996 comedy “Man with a Plan.” In a 20th anniversary screening, Slam introduces this classic Vermont film for a new generation. The “mockumentary” follows Fred Tuttle who, when faced with his father's impending hip operation and his failing dairy farm, decides to run for Congress against wily incumbent Bill Blachley.

O'Brien and Tuttle, a retired Tunbridge dairy farmer, then went a step further with their satire when Tuttle ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 1998 and won. Tuttle then endorsed the incumbent, Patrick Leahy, and the two made several campaign appearances together.

Tuttle died in 2003, but he is fondly remembered for his part in creating one of the best examples of life imitating art in Vermont history.

O'Brien will attend the screening, and a Q&A will follow the film.

'People eagerly sat through five films'

Latham anticipates Summer Cinema Slam 2016 will be a great success.

“If this year is anything like last summer, I anticipate the Cinema Slam to sell out,” Latham says. “Last year was an absolutely crazy night. People eagerly sat through five films, and stayed on for the Q&A. We were still going at midnight.”

You might even say that Summer Cinema Slam is more like a party than a traditional film event.

“People can drink beer listen to music and talk about what they have seen, even have a one-on-one with the filmmaker,” Latham continues. “Consequently we have a different demographic, often younger people who are seeing these films with fresh eyes. But all kinds come: filmmakers to see what their peers are up to, die-hard Brattleboro Film Festival supporters, but also just regular people from the community who love the possibilities of film.”

Dozens of films were screened before settling on this year's program. Brenda Carr, one of the organizers of the event, likes the challenge of short films.

“People may not realize how difficult it is to create a short film that embodies a cohesive narrative,” she says. “I spent many hours searching through the archives of previous festivals searching for the perfect combination of films.”

A nurse, Carr two years ago went back to college and earned a degree in film theory and criticism from Mount Holyoke College. Since then, she has volunteered at the Brattleboro Film Festival and has collaborated with Jennifer Latham on special events as well as last year's Summer Cinema Slam.

“I really love the short film,” Carr says. “I believe that in recent years the public too is growing to like them. People now understand that short films are not just inferior features, but an entirely different kind of film.

“One way that shorts are often different from feature films is that they place a higher emphasis on the image to tell the narrative and grab an audience's attention. And because of the relatively ease to make and finance them (as opposed to feature films), shorts allow greater creative independence.”

Searching for short films

Carr's job for this year's Summer Cinema Slam was to find the short films made in Vermont, from which she and her colleagues chose three.

“Primarily, I looked through the programs of the many film festivals throughout Vermont, because shorts seldom are shown in regular theaters,” Carr says. “Also, the films we chose had be exclusively be made by filmmakers in Vermont. We wanted three films that worked well together yet represented different kinds of genres.

Latham chose the feature film.

“I chose “Man with a Plan,” even though it is over 20 years old, because it resonates now,” Latham says. “It may feel a little slower than a film made today, but this is such a classic Vermont film, full of our special Vermont sense of humor.”

Latham said the mid-1990s were heady times for Vermont filmmakers, led by O'Brien, whose 1992 debut was the comedy, “Vermont is for Lovers,” and Jay Craven, whose 1994 debut, “Where The Rivers Flow North,” attracted considerable acclaim.

“A whole lot of other filmmakers were actively working in the state,” Latham says. “That time now seems like the golden age of Vermont filmmaking. What happened? John has been quite outspoken about the negative consequences with dissolving the Vermont Film Commission. His remarks were part of my inspiration to create the collaborative.”

Latham formed the Northern Routes Film Collaborative this year as a networking tool for media professionals living in Southern Vermont and surrounding regions and to support local filmmaking. They share a mission to create opportunities for conversations around films and filmmaking.

“There are tons of people, really a substantial amount, working in the media industry in Southern Vermont,” Latham says. “These folks are everything from big names like Jay Craven to documentary filmmakers, those working at BCTV, which makes over 1,000 hours of film content each year, those who make videos for universities, and others who document weddings and make films on the side.

Cinematic roots

“It's a large spectrum. And these are not just the filmmakers and writers either, but people in costume design and publicity. [Northern Routes] hopes to include everything from filmmaking nuts-and-bolts up to directors.”

Latham grew up in Westminster West, but moved away to New York City, where she worked in film for more than 20 years. When she moved back to the area three years ago, she became active with the lively film community in Windham County, first working with the Brattleboro Film Festival, and then forming Northern Routes.

“I believe in the the concept of what John O'Brien calls an 'indigenous film industry,'” Latham continues. “He believes that a community should use its local filmmakers, just as it might use local graphic artists or musicians.

“The problem is communication. Now, too many who are working in film remain locked in isolated silos. In short, people aren't communicating with each other.

“That's what [Northern Routes] is hoping to solve. Of course, events like Summer Cinema Slam are a great way of bringing people together and beginning a conversation between filmmakers with each other and with the community.”

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