Jay Craven’s film ‘Northern Borders’ to screen locally at four venues

ADDISON COUNTY — Award-winning Vermont director Jay Craven will present his new film, “Northern Borders,” at  special screenings, Friday, Sept. 6, at the Brandon Town Hall; Friday, Sept. 13, at the Vergennes Opera House; Saturday, Sept. 14, at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater; and Sunday, Sept. 15, at Holley Hall in Bristol. Show times are 7:30 p.m. The film is based on the award-winning novel by Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher.
The Addison County screenings are being presented as part of the film’s 100 Town Tour. Craven, who is featured in a recent WBUR podcast and in July’s Orion magazine for his place-based film work, will introduce the picture and lead a post-film discussion at each screening.
“Northern Borders” is based on Howard Frank Mosher’s award-winning novel that was recently declared by the London Guardian as one of the “Top Ten Books Featuring Grandparents” (others included Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” and Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”). The picture stars Bruce Dern (“Coming Home,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Family Plot”) and Geneviève Bujold (“Anne of a Thousand Days, “King of Hearts”). Dern was recently named Best Actor at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, for Alexander Payne’s new film, “Nebraska,” which he shot immediately after completing “Northern Borders.” Both Bujold and Dern have received Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Emmy nominations. Bujold has also won an Emmy and Golden Globe. “Northern Borders” also stars Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (“Moonrise Kingdom”) and 2010 Tony Award nominee Jessica Hecht (“Sideways,” “Friends”). The film was featured at a sold-out June 27 screening at the recent Nantucket Film Festival and Aug. 2 at the Woods Hole Film Festival on Cape Cod.
“Northern Borders” tells the story of 10-year-old Austen Kittredge, who is sent to live on his grandparents’ Kingdom County, Vermont, farm, where he has wild adventures and uncovers long-festering family secrets. It’s 1956 and Austen experiences rural Kingdom County as a place full of eccentric people including his stubborn grandparents, whose thorny marriage is known as the Forty Years War. Initially feeling stuck in this fractured household, young Austen plans a quick exit but ends up stranded with no choice but to navigate and endure. A humorous and sometimes startling coming-of-age story, “Northern Borders” evokes Vermont’s wildness, its sublime beauty, a haunted past, and an aura of enchantment.
“Northern Borders” was produced as the result of a unique partnership between Jay Craven’s nonprofit Kingdom County Productions and Marlboro College, where Craven is professor of film. The picture was made as the outcome of a semester-long film intensive called Movies from Marlboro. It was produced on a lean budget, through the collaboration of 20 young filmmaking professionals and 26 students from 12 colleges, who worked in substantial roles in every level of production.
A new 2014 Movies from Marlboro project will produce “Peter and John,” based on Guy de Maupassant’s ground-breaking 1887 novel. That production is planned for next spring on Nantucket. It will again partner professionals and students from multiple colleges who earn academic credit for a “semester away” from their home school. Information is available at Movies.Marlboro.edu or by contacting Jay Craven ([email protected]).
“Northern Borders” tickets will be available at the door. Tour schedules are available online at KingdomCounty.org or by calling 802-357-4616.
My Grandparents (and “Northern Borders”)
I was raised by my grandparents from first through fourth grades, so my experiences informed my film. My grandfather Phil Hatch was not unlike old Austen Kittredge in “Northern Borders.” He didn’t suffer fools gladly and he could be a pretty tough character. Toward the end of her life, my grandmother hinted that she would tell me a deep secret about him — but she never did. Instead, I recently discovered it by searching for my grandfather’s name in The New York Times archives.
It seems that my granddad landed in a Massachusetts penitentiary, around 1927, on charges of grand larceny of $140,000 from the Bank of Nova Scotia. He was captured by FBI agents while on the lam in Havana but he was inexplicably pardoned by the Massachusetts governor, against unanimous protest by the parole board, after serving only a year. Which raises even more questions. Phil ended up as FDR’s assistant secretary of Agriculture. I’m mystified — but I took some of what I knew and suspected for my film, where an unsolved bank robbery bubbles up.
Like the grandmother character, Abiah, in “Northern Borders,” my Texas-born “Geema” was blunt and enigmatic, with a steady stream of cryptic life lessons, off-the-cuff poems, and a biting tongue-in-cheek wit. She also looked beyond what was visible. Geema was daring. When I was 10, she bluffed her way past security guards and steered me into the San Francisco Giants locker room at Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium — to get me Willie Mays’ autograph. She told the cops she was the wife of the Giants’ general manager. Within a minute, there we were — staring straight at Giants’ star outfielder Willie McCovey lathering up in the shower.
My grandmother didn’t flinch.  “Mister Mays?” she said, with her indelible Texas drawl. “My grandson would like your autograph.”
The tall soft-spoken McCovey shifted on his feet. “Ma’m, I’m not Mister Mays. I’m Mister McCovey. But if you’ll just toss me a towel, I’d be happy to give your grandson an autograph — then I’d like to finish my shower.” He did — and a minute later we found Willie Mays dressing at his locker. He signed my Phillies yearbook and I’ll never forget it.
My grandmother also introduced me to movies. She loved Westerns and Tennessee Williams films — anything with gunslingers or distraught Southern women. So while my second-grade peers were checking out Disney’s “Dumbo” and “Lady and the Tramp,” Geema and I were cruising Philadelphia and the suburbs in her red ’54 Chrysler to check out weekend matinees of “Red River,” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
During her life, Geema was a competitive swimmer, journalist, and secretary to a U.S. senator. She was fierce on grammar and, when I was out of line, she’d send me to an ancient willow tree to cut a “switch” that she threatened to use on the spot. She never did.  On the contrary, she was the single adult in my life who most expressed the complex but warm emotions that I came to know as love.
While working with Geneviève Bujold on “Northern Borders,” I shared many of her stories. Now looking at Geneviève’s finely layered characterization of Abiah on screen, I’m reminded of how my grandmother remains with me.

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