I am familiar with March in Vermont. Every year from 2006 – 2013 I spent a week in Montpelier to work on the Vermont chapter annual budget. March weather varies greatly year to year. Sometimes spring makes an early appearance, other years winter maintains its icy grip. One year downtown Montpelier was on a flood watch. Every year there seems to be gray skies and dingy gray snow. And some years I was lucky enough to be in town during the Green Mountain Film Festival.
With the memory of seeing such great flicks as A Flock of Dodos and Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, I have been greatly looking forward to this year’s festival, the 18th incarnation. The GMFF features dozens of films, focusing heavily on documentary, foreign and indy offerings, over three screens in town. Every year the Savoy dedicates both screens to the festival. In the past the third screen has been at places like City Hall or one of the screens at the Capitol Showplace. This year the festival is using a theatre in the bowels of the Pavilion, a former hotel that now houses the Vermont Historical Society as well as the Governor’s office.
The ten-day festival opened on Friday. I had picked up a schedule a few days in advance and had researched the films I was interested in seeing, which is almost all of them. Doreen was visiting a friend in Burlington, so I decided to skip opening night, as it’s more fun to have someone to reflect with after the show.
On Saturday we decided to see Becoming Bulletproof at the Pavilion. This is a documentary about a film being produced by Zeno Mountain Farm, an organization that offers opportunities to “disabled” people to participate in activities such as sports, theatre, and even filmmaking. Becoming Bulletproof shows the story behind the making of Zeno Mountain’s film Bulletproof, a western and the first scripted movie made by Zeno. We follow AJ, a young man from Atlanta with Cerebral Palsy who wants nothing more than to be an actor, as he attends his first camp – a two week outing during which the film will be shot. Other featured campers include folks with Down’s Syndrome, Williams Syndrome and other challenges.
These folks work side-by-side with able-bodied people, all volunteers, many of whom are professional actors and film makers. We see how transformative this is for all involved, as the entire crew focuses on friendship, camaraderie, and what each individual can do rather than what they can not.
Following the film we were joined by Peter and Ila Halby, two founders of Zeno Mountain Farm who happen to live nearby in Lincoln, Vermont. Also joining us were several other who have worked with Zeno Mountain. The Q&A period opened our eyes further to the process in holding these camps, and the commitment of all involved.
On Sunday we chose to take in another matinee at the Pavilion. Beyond the Divide is another terrific documentary about people finding common ground. In this case, we see how a decades-long conflict between Vietnam War veterans and peace advocates in Missoula, Montana comes to a resolution. At the core of the issue is a giant peace sign painted on a microwave deflector on a hilltop over Missoula. Starting in 1983, peace advocates scaled the sign in the dark of night to paint the peace sign, after which the phone company (which owned the reflector) would paint it over.
This went on for many years until the phone company gave up, as the reflector was becoming obsolete and painting cost too much money. However the phone company finally tore down the peace sign in 2001, leaving it in pieces that were salvaged by various advocates in town. Ultimately the peace group hopes to find a place to reassemble the sign.
The real story here is how attitudes have changed over the years between the groups. Dan Gallagher, a Vietnam Vet, still carries the scars of returning home to a hostile welcome from war protesters. Betsy Mulligan-Dague is the Executive Director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in town. Both come from Irish families who believe in talking about disagreements and finding middle ground. I found Mr. Gallagher in particular to be articulate, expressive, introspective and very warm. He is a tireless advocate for evergreens rights, and although he sees the peace sign as a slap in the face to the Vietnam troops, he is able to see that he and the peace advocates ultimately are working toward the same goal – a peaceful planet.
These are two very powerful films, and alone make the festival a worthwhile affair this year. But there is still a whole week of shows remaining, and we have a pass for five more films. We’re already lining up tickets for the days ahead. We’re not used to this many nights out, but this event naturally builds excitement within the community. It’s going to be fun.