“The Year That Trembled”

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(Host) Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven is best known for his feature length adaptations of the Howard Frank Mosher novels “Where the Rivers Flow North” and “A Stranger in the Kingdom.” For his first feature that ventures outside of Vermont, Craven has turned to a pivotal moment in the 1960s. It’s a period that Craven feels has special relevance in today’s political climate.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff reports.

(Charnoff) In 1970, against the backdrop of student protest against the Vietnam War, Ohio National Guardsman fired upon demonstrators at Kent State University. Four students died.

Jay Craven’s new film, “The Year That Trembled”, is set in the shadow of this turbulent period. Craven’s screenplay is based on a 1998 novel by Scott Lax. The film is a coming-of-age story that examines how lives were transformed by the fallout from the war and from the events at Kent State.

Production on “The Year That Trembled” began four years ago. But Craven says the film has gained a special resonance at a time when Americans are again feeling vulnerable to the threat of war:

(Craven) “There’s been some concern that, because the film evokes a time when there was protest, when there was anxiety over war, that the current climate might leave us out in the cold. Part of the desire was to show, first of all, to avoid the minefield of cliches that exist around the sixties, which are many. But to go beyond that and show that life is more complex than ideology. However there are events precipitated by war that change people’s lives.”

(Charnoff) “The Year That Trembled” follows young students caught up in the upheaval following the Kent State shootings, and how it affects the choices they make regarding the draft. It examines the role of anti-war veterans and women in the Kent demonstrations. The film also suggests that government agents infiltrated the movement, and were possibly responsible for burning the Kent ROTC building.

The film’s central conflict is set up early on. A high school teacher, played by Marin Hinkle, responds to the school board’s accusations that she encourages students to avoid the draft. Some of her students arrive to support her as she spars with the school board’s lawyer, played by Henry Gibson:

(Kerrigan) “First of all, the Vietnam War, I think interests kids. I mean, it is true that some bring books to school, that they hide from their parents, books about the draft, or – “
(Gibson) “The draft is really about the law. What does Mrs. Kerrigan say about the law?”
(Kerrigan) “Well I would say if a law is not fair, then you should question it.”
(Casey) “And I’d say break it, if it’s not fair. I mean that’s what the civil rights workers did. I mean who got to vote on Cambodia? Not even Congress.” (Gibson) “You may have a point. Up until now you could buy your way out of the war by going to college, getting married. But don’t you think this new draft lottery war is more fair?”

(Charnoff) “The Year That Trembled” was filmed in rural Ohio and includes a cast and crew of newcomers, seasoned actors and veterans from Craven’s previous films. He’s hopeful that audiences will recognize the parallels with today’s society, as the lines between patriotism and dissent are once again at odds:

(Craven) “There’s no question that the current situation has changed many of our lives, many of the ways that we view public discourse, the way that we view the threat of war, the way that we feel more vulnerable, probably even more than we did during the Vietnam War, in some ways. And I think that the film creates a context and a starting point, anyway, for discussions about then and now that help to facilitate, I hope, discussion about the need for discourse.”

(Charnoff) “The Year That Trembled” is currently previewing in Ohio and in Burlington. Craven says the film will be shown to distributors later this summer.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Neal Charnoff.

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