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White River Indie Films celebrates movies made in Northern New England

  • Georgina Sappier-Richardson (Passamaquoddy) survived a childhood in four different foster homes. Photo by Jeremy Dennis

  • eorgina Sappier Richardson (Passmaquoddy) high school photography. Still from video by Ben Pender-Cudlip

  • Georgina Sappier-Richardson (Passamaquoddy) lighting sage in a ceremony at her home. Still from video by Ben Pender-Cudlip

  • Carol Street Still .jpg

  • 2_Mom__Meechi___Nana___Carroll_St_1.jpg

  • Middlebury, Vermont (December 14, 2018) - Demetrius Borge and Chris Spencer record on-camera voiceover for a video at the Solos Salon. (Photo © 2018 Brett Simison)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2019 7:28:36 PM
Modified: 10/25/2019 4:02:27 PM

In neat cursive script on notebook paper, Georgina Sappier-Richardson writes letters to a little girl who was taken away from her parents and placed in a series of foster homes, where she endured all manner of abuse.

That little girl is her.

“I couldn’t protect her. I couldn’t protect her,” Sappier-Richardson quietly laments, as a camera zooms in on a doodle of a curly-haired girl with tears running down her face.

With no photos of herself as a child, those doodles were all Sappier-Richardson had when she began trying to reconnect with her Passamaquoddy culture a few years ago, a journey filmmakers Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip document in their new film, Dear Georgina.

It’s one of 27 films playing next weekend at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction as part of the Made Here Showcase. A new event presented by the Vermont International Film Festival and Vermont PBS in collaboration with White River Indie Films, the three-day festival features films from New England, Quebec and Northern New York, chosen by a selection committee.

“(WRIF) has always been committed to showing regional filmmakers,” Nora Jacobson, a Norwich filmmaker, WRIF board member and coordinator of the Made Here Showcase, said in a phone interview. “With this, we decided to devote a whole festival to regional films.”

If they’re constrained geographically, that’s about the only limitation on the films, which run the cinematic gamut, probe themes from the everyday to the outlandish and feature the work of both newcomers to the field and seasoned, award-winning filmmakers.

For Mazo, whose 2018 documentary, Dawnland, recently won an Emmy award for outstanding research, making Dear Georgina was a chance to tell an important story in a simple but meaningful way.

“We just felt like her story and her energy and her way of being was something that people would connect with,” Mazo, of Boston, said in a phone interview.

Dawnland, which played last fall at Dartmouth College and was co-produced by Dartmouth professor Bruce Duthu, looks at the impact of child welfare practices on tribal communities, particularly in Maine, where a reconciliation commission gathered testimony from about 150 American Indian children who were seized by the state as children.

Dear Georgina, which will screen on Nov. 2 at 1:30 p.m., provides a brief, close-up look at one of those people. “This is a much more personal portrait,” said Mazo, who also serves as co-producer, along with Tracy Rector.

Along with shining a light on a dark chapter in history, the film may resonate with anyone who’s overcome a troubled past.

“Georgina’s story is heartbreaking, but it’s also a story that can give some hope to people who have gone through foster care and are still dealing with the traumas they may have suffered,” Mazo said.

An elder in the Passamaquoddy tribe, Sappier-Richardson also demonstrates to Mazo the beauty of older generations. “We hope that seeing the film will motivate people to have a sense of wonder about their elders and where they came from,” he said.

In his film, Carol Street, which plays in the same set as Dear Georgina, at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 2, Demetrius Borge also examines the roots of race and the impact of racial identity.

Growing up in California, Borge, the son of a black mother and white father, said he never gave a lot of thought to his race until he went to Middlebury College, in Vermont, to study film in 2012 and saw other black people trying to maintain a sense of identity at the predominantly white school.

“I had a pretty good understanding of the black experience, but I got to choose whether I lived it in my daily life,” Borge, who now works as a freelance photographer and videographer in Middlebury, said in a phone interview. “I wanted to get a better understanding of what that experience is like for alumni, for students, for faculty. Where do you go when you want to get your hair cut. Where do you go when you want to find that sense of community?”

Borge, who first made the film for the Middlebury alumni magazine’s website, conducted interviews at a pop-up salon for people of color that a Middlebury professor established at the college last year. The experience brought into focus the lessons and values his mother had imparted to him as a child — in particular, the importance of family, biological and otherwise. He titled it Carol Street, after the street in New York City where his mother, who is Jamaican, grew up and where the mix of relatives and friends who constituted her family took shape.

“I have so much family that I can trace back there,” Borge said. “It’s still important in my life. That’s where it all started.”

Borge is one of many filmmakers who will be in attendance at the event to talk about his film.

“That’s always been a very important part of WRIF,” Jacobson said. “We’ve found that people really like to talk about films.”

They’ll have plenty to talk about:

Sacred Hair (Cheveux Sacres) by Mario Morin of Quebec (Nov. 1, 7:15 p.m.), tells the story of a chance meeting between a Muslim woman and a young boy on a park bench. “It’s got an amazing child actor in it,” Jacobson said.

Little Beeri’s March, by former WRIF board member John Griesemer (Nov. 1, 7:15 p.m.), examines what happens when a family that profits from war suddenly finds the war coming for them. A musical hybrid with a made-up language, “it really pushes the boundaries of film,” Jacobson said.

Major Arcana, a full-length feature by Barnard filmmaker Josh Melrod, (Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.) tells the story of a carpenter building a log cabin by hand in an attempt to overcome alcoholism and poverty. “It has a really gritty sense of the backwoods of Vermont,” Jacobson said. “It really compares beautifully with any independent feature film you’d see at Sundance.”

Other highlights of the festival include a breakfast and filmmaking discussion in the Briggs Opera House lobby on Nov. 2 and 3 at 10 a.m.; a work-in-progress screening of Dan Higgins: Making Pictures by Vermont filmmaker Eleanor Lanahan on Nov. 1 at 5 p.m.; an opening night reception in the Briggs lobby on Nov. 1 at 6:15 p.m.; and after screening parties on Nov. 1 at Piecemeal Pies and Nov. 2 at Trailbreak Taps and Tacos.

Admission to all of the films is by donation. For more information visit www.wrif.org/event/made-here-showcase.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.

  

 




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