NewsPress Release - 11/16/99
MARLBORO, VT -- The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
announced today that Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven, the head of the
film and video department at Marlboro College, will be awarded the
NEA's only narrative film production grant in the U.S. for the year
2000. The $35,000 grant will support Craven's film company, Kingdom
County Productions, for production of Disappearances, a narrative
feature film based on Howard Frank Mosher's award-winning novel.
Disappearances is a whiskey-running adventure and comedy set during Prohibition along the Vermont/Quebec border. It tells the story of Quebecois Bill Bonhomme, a hardy schemer and irrepressible optimist who loses his hay barn to lightning and resorts to whiskey-smuggling in order to raise the money he needs to save his livestock from the coming winter.
"The vivid characters and mythic themes of the film conjure a populist mix of Faulkner, Marquez, Chaplin, Terry Gilliam, John Ford, and Sam Peckinpah," said Craven. "Its hair-raising adventure, potent emotions, and laugh-out-loud humor promise to make Disappearances the most popular of the Mosher films."
Apparently, competition for the NEA award was fierce: Craven said his film project was up against applications from National Public Radio, Lincoln Center, PBS, the Guthrie Theater, and Sundance Film Festival. "The NEA panelists liked my previous work and felt strongly about our mission--to produce narrative films which are rooted in characters and stories from the region, using a combination of regional and national talent and resources. There isn't enough of this kind of filmmaking happening in the U.S," said Craven.
Craven explained that his films are cultural as opposed to being strictly commercial. "Filmmakers in France, Canada, Australia, and most other industrial countries tell important regional stories through films like The Full Monty, Shine, The Piano, My Left Foot, Mrs. Brown, The Sweet Hereafter, and Waking Ned Devine. This kind of character-driven filmmaking thrives because those countries provide substantial public subsidies for production, distribution, exhibition, and audience development for indigenous films.
"In the U.S., NEA grants are small in comparison to the public support given in Europe and Canada, but this NEA grant is extremely important to us as we work to build momentum and raise additional funds," Craven said. "It is worth noting that NEA support has been cut back in recent years," he added, "but it is about all there is, especially since the demise of PBS' American Playhouse."
Craven plans to work with scenes from Disappearances in his intermediate-level "Acting for Camera" class at Marlboro College this spring. Depending on his progress with casting and additional fundraising, Craven hopes that filming of Disappearances will begin next August or September and will involve at least a dozen of his Marlboro College students in one way or another. "There will be opportunities for them to work at a number of different levels," he said.
Craven's earlier films--Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom--demonstrate his gift for creating award-winning films on modest budgets. His talent pool includes regular ensemble players Tantoo Cardinal, Bill Raymond, Rusty DeWees, and John Griesemer, and well-known stars like Michael J. Fox, Rip Torn, Ernie Hudson, Treat Williams, and Martin Sheen.
In related developments, Craven's Disappearances has been selected as one of 60 promising independent film projects (from among three hundred applicants) invited to meet U.S. and foreign financiers and distributors at the International Film Financing Conference (IFFCON) to be held in San Francisco in mid-January.
In his book, Party In a Box--the just-published history of the Sundance Film Festival--author and Sundance co-founder Lory Smith opens his concluding chapter by urging American independent filmmakers to "take a lesson" from Craven's unique commitment to high-quality regional filmmaking, self-distribution, grassroots exhibition, and audience development in small towns.
Craven's first dramatic feature film, Where the Rivers Flow North, played at Sundance in 1994, and he will take eight Marlboro College students to Park City in late January for a first-hand look at this year's Sundance fest.
Craven attributes his filmmaking success to focusing on the same basics he teaches in the Marlboro College classroom: writing and directing. He also emphasizes the importance of collaboration--with lighting specialists, actors, cinematographers, and designers. "I'm currently working to build a cross-collaborative film program that draws on Marlboro's impressive resources of filmmakers, actors, musicians, writers, photographers, and visual artists," he said.
Craven started making super 8-mm. "epics" as a freshman at Boston University in the late 1960s. In 1974, he settled in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, where he launched the Catamount Arts performing arts program, which grew by the mid-1980s to become northern New England's largest independent arts producer and presenter.
Craven's previous awards include the Producers' Guild of America's 1995 NOVA Award for Most Promising New Theatrical Motion Picture Producer of the Year (other recent winners include the producers of Shine, The Full Monty, and The Piano). His film credits include High Water (1989), Where the Rivers Flow North (1994), A Stranger in the Kingdom (1998), and In Jest (1999).