Made, And Shown, In Vermont
Genevieve Bujold and Seamus Davey-Fitpatrick star in "Northern Borders."
Jay Craven, right, and Bruce Dern chat on the set of "Northern Borders."
College students had a major role in the making of "Northern Borders'' in Vermont.
When the crew of Northern Borders set up at Whetstone Ledges Farm in Marlboro, Vt., transforming a cabin into a rustic men’s retreat where a grandfather takes his grandson, it wasn’t your usual movie set.
Jay Craven, the director, was adapting his fifth Howard Frank Mosher book, and filming it in a quiet part of Vermont. He was making the movie, as always, as an independent filmmaker (and is currently in the middle of screening it in a 100-town tour that will hit the Upper Valley next week). His cast, as usual, had a high pedigree.
But 34 members of the crew had either just graduated from college or were still students, working on a film set as part of an intensive, semester-long course. And they weren’t just watching — they were creating. Some helped with the actual filming, putting together 18 smaller scenes that didn’t involve the principal actors. The script supervisor was young. So was the location manager.
Initially, the actors were hesitant about signing on. Craven remembered persuading Bruce Dern, who in May won best actor at the Cannes Film Festival for the movie he filmed immediately after Northern Borders, by telling him the major crew roles would still be filled by professionals.
But having so many students on set ended up working well for the cast.
“They loved working with the students,” Craven said. “They felt that it really brought a sort of freshness and a kind of crackling energy on a daily basis to the project.”
Northern Borders tells the period story of 10-year-old Austin Kittredge, played by Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick of Moonrise Kingdom and the 2006 remake of The Omen (he played Damien), who is sent to rural Vermont by his father to live with his grandparents (Dern and Genevieve Bujold, both Academy Award nominees).
It filmed last year, and Craven began his 100-town tour in Tamworth, N.H., where one of the interns hails from, in the middle of June. On opening night, 200 people showed up, Craven said.
Since then, Craven and two interns have wound around Vermont, hitting St. Johnsbury, Montpelier and Island Pond, among other towns and cities. On Monday, they’ll make their way to Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction. The next night, they’ll show the film at Damon Hall in Hartland. Dates in Thetford, Norwich and Woodstock follow in the coming days and weeks.
For now, Craven, a film and video professor at Marlboro College, is focusing on showing the film around the state. “I love connecting with these small towns and with audiences everywhere in the region, because these stories come from the region,” he said.
One of the two interns touring with Craven is Jake Morely, a rising Marlboro College junior who served as location manager on Northern Borders, meaning he was solely responsible for scouting for places to film (he took the job, among other reasons, because he was one of the few interns with a car on campus). He was the one who initially reached out to Dan MacArthur, the owner of Whetstone Ledges Farm, which became ground zero for filming for about a week.
Morely, a self-professed “huge film watcher and enjoyer,” said he was willing to take on any job he could for the film. This summer, he’s helping set up equipment in advance of screenings, and introducing the film on nights when Craven is at another screening.
He said he appreciated learning about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking during his intensive course, which is to say: He learned that movies are work.
“It is a kind of demystifying of the experience of how films are made,” he said.
Morely is considering applying to work on Craven’s next film, an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s Pierre et Jean that will be partially filmed on Nantucket next spring. Craven said he plans to use students in an even greater role — for instance, a student will serve as the first assistant director.
That will be after the 100-town tour ends, and Craven begins shopping Northern Borders to outlets such as Netflix and Showtime while showing the film around the country.
But, even as he starts presenting it in places such as Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis, he said he remains committed to New England.
At least part of the audience appreciates that. “We like Jay, and we like his approach to filmmaking, which is using local resources,” said MacArthur, who owns Whetstone Ledges. “We like the fact that when he films Vermont, he uses Vermont to film it.”
Northern Borders will be shown at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction on Monday at 7:30 p.m., and at Damon Hall in Hartland at the same time the next night. The Tupelo show is being put on in conjunction with White River Indie Films, which is holding a reception at 6 p.m. Tickets are $6 to $12, and are sold at the door at each venue. For more information, go to www.kingdomcounty.org.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-72 7-3242.