Emails sent to teen congressional pages have rekindled the issue of pedophilia, a subject the Catholic Church knows only too well. Florida Republican Mark Foley, the alleged predator-politician, contends a clergyman once molested him. So Hand of God, screening Saturday at the Vermont International Film Festival in Burlington, may be more relevant than ever. The 96-minute documentary focuses on a Massachusetts parish priest who abused youngsters four decades ago, including a survivor particularly close to home: director Joe Cultrera's own brother.
The topical fest, which runs October 11-15 at the Waterfront Theatre and the Roxy, spotlights other similarly intimate fare. In Waterbuster, J. Carlos Peinado explores the history of environmental dangers tangled up with his Native American roots. Many films - such as Julia Dengel's "Cowboys, Indians and Lawyers" - another examination of tribal woes - are a form of journalism as visual as it is verbal.
"The Black Road: On the Front of Aceh's War" is both a personal and reporterial journey for William Neesen, an Australian whose doc traces his growing awareness of a struggle for independence in Indonesia.
This year, VIFF's 100-plus selections of various lengths also include several works of fiction. Sweet Memories, from Greece, is Kyriakos Katzourakis' account of a woman searching for her true identity. Mojave Phone Booth, by John Putch, imagines four strangers who are affected by an archaic, graffiti-covered communication device in the desert. The filmmaker promises that his story looks at "the mystery of the universe."
There appears to be no shortage of mystery in Eleanor "Bobbie" Lanahan's "The Naked Hitchhiker," an animated tale about a woman who faces her demons while thumbing a ride with a kindly truck driver. The debut film is "a tapestry of emotional and spiritual metaphors," explains the 58-year-old Burlington artist, illustrator and author.
A granddaughter of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lanahan tinkered with animation while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design and taking a 1971 summer course in Boston. But she credits significant other John Douglas of Charlotte, a guy who also moves images, with guiding her through the 6-year odyssey that resulted in "Naked Hitchhiker." His own 5-minute "Short Cuts," on tap Friday, is described in the festival brochure as a "small collection of thoughts that create a poetic whole."
The Lanahan project, one of 55 entries from local filmmakers, opens the event along with "Vermont's George Aiken: Balancing Freedom and Unity," by Rick Moulton of Huntington. This profile resonates, given the late U.S. senator's famous suggestion in 1966 that the country should declare victory in Vietnam and get out. Though it was ignored back then, his common-sense advice remains salient today. More good reasons for getting out of what comedian Jon Stewart calls Mess-o'-Potamia are provided by James Longley's Iraq in Fragments, at the festival on Friday.
Green Mountain boys Nat Winthrop, Gary Miller and Matt Sienkiewicz chronicle the progress of a well-known auteur's motion picture in "Act of Faith: The Making of Disappearances." The new Jay Craven feature, starring Kris Kristofferson, follows the shifting fortunes of a Northeast Kingdom farmer trying to smuggle whiskey during Prohibition.
A Woodstock native now living in San Francisco, Zach Niles will attend the VIFF premiere of Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, which he co-directed with Banker White. The documentary concerns six musicians displaced by civil war who form a band during their exile in the Republic of Guinea. Coincidentally, the group is performing at the Barre Opera House on October 27. Niles, White and their entire production team are Middlebury College graduates.
My alma mater is Goddard College. In the interest of full disclosure: "Everybody Knows," a tune heard twice on the Hand of God soundtrack, is the only broken-hearted love song ever written about me. (Ah, those were the days.) The composer, Willie Alexander, was a vocalist for The Lost - a 1960s rock ensemble that got together at the Plainfield school and later became wildly popular in the Boston area.
Joe Cultrera uses The Lost's vintage recording to convey the countercultural zeitgeist of an era in which his brother Paul was an altar boy silently enduring molestation. The siblings grew up in a Salem family so devoted to the church that these unholy acts seemed unfathomable. As this passionately subjective film becomes a mechanism for confronting the Cultrera clan's inevitable shame, guilt, denial and fury, it uses cinema as a medium to champion a doleful but timely message.
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