Film tour

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(HOST) Commentator Jay Craven is on the road this summer, with a One Hundred Town Tour for his new film, “Disappearances” and he says that already there have been dozens of what he calls “unexpected moments”.

(CRAVEN) In Irasburg I wrestled heavy folding wooden chairs into place while kids rode up to the show on bikes; a farmer drove in on a tractor; and another man pulled up in a tractor trailer. In Enosburg, a five year-old explained the film’s magical realism to his astonished parents.

On my way to Rutland, a car veered out of it’s lane and came straight at me, forcing me into a ditch. As a result, when I’m headed to the Haskell Opera House in Derby Line, my muffler blows. Then I park in Canada.

Our Tour was conceived in the spirit of the vaudeville shows that traveled to Haskell and other Vermont venues during the last century. Back then, people doubted that movies would catch on – so short films piggy-backed onto vaudeville acts – like “Bessie the Bird Lady”, who toured the state imitating songs from twenty-six different avian species.

Vaudeville pioneer Rudy Valle was born just a short distance from the Haskell in neighboring Island Pond. The hundred year old Opera House retains the feel of those early days. Fresh paint details delicate plaster stage arches, original edge lights adorn the balcony and an usher in spit curls hawks fifty-cent rentals of plump seat cushions in pale lavender.

The Opera House feels just right for our film – a kind of “Vermont western” about running whiskey cross the border during Prohibition. Howard Mosher arrives for the show and explains how he wrote much of the book while straddling the clearly marked international border that runs through the building’s library and theater seating area. Manager David LePitre assures a woman that she doesn’t need a visa to sit on the Canadian side. Then I welcome the audience and we start the film.

After the film ends we take questions from the audience. A woman teases a new story twist I hadn’t considered from a line of dialogue. Somebody else wants to know what we’ll do after we finish traveling around Vermont. “We’ll tour New Hampshire,” I say. Two men hold forth in the lobby, telling their own whiskey running stories. As the audience files out, they say “thanks”, and offer encouragement and even a little advice.

One of the last people to leave is a newspaper publisher from Quebec. He says that since the projector, screen and half the audience were on the Canadian side of the border, we probably should have gotten a license to show the film in Canada. So the entire event may have been in violation of Canadian law. But that too seems fitting — an accidental salute to the bootlegger spirit.

Filmmaker Jay Craven teaches at Marlboro College and directs Kingdom County Productions.

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