AWARD-WINNING VERMONT FILMMAKER
RELEASES FILM ABOUT VIETNAM EAR
(published in The Valley Voice in 2003)
By Ed Barna
Jay Craven, known throughout Vermont for his films “Where the Rivers Flow North” and “Stranger in the Kingdom,” is moving out of northeastern Vermont.
Not literally. His company Kingdom County Productions is still based in Peacham. His next release “Disappearances,” a wild tale of a northland farmer’s whiskey-running scheme during Prohibition, is based on a Howard Frank Mosher novel like the first two.
But his current film, released on March 22, 2002, is set in Ohio, in 1970, and was filmed in Garrettsville in that state. If you lived through that era and just thought “Kentbodia,” you’re right on, man.
Craven said explained a recent interview that he had taken “Stranger” on a 100-town tour, and stopping at one inn for the night, he happened to meet Ohio novelist Scott Lax. He was taking a vacation before going to New York City, because the book “The Year That Trembled” had just been published by Middlebury-based Paul S. Eriksson.
Would Craven like to look at a copy? He did, he liked it, and when Lax and associate Tyler Davidson were willing to finance and produce a film based on it, Craven agreed. This was a chance to do a film about an era he knew well from his undergraduate days at Boston University.
“The Year That Trembled” takes its title from a Civil War era poem by Walt Whitman. It begins, “Year that trembled and reeled beneath me!/Your summer winds were warm enough, yet the air I breathed froze me./A thick gloom fell through the sunshine and darkened me.”
In 1970, the country was embattled as well. As Craven recalled, this was the era when Ronald Reagan said that if it took a bloodbath to stop the protests, the government should go ahead and get it over with. After President Richard Nixon decided to invade Cambodia in search of North Vietnamese bases, four protesters at Kent State University in Ohio were shot and killed by National Guardsmen, and campuses all over the country erupted. It looked as if the bloodbath might come.
Using stock footage of fighting in Vietnam and protests, and a sound track that subtly incorporates lesser-known Sixties music, Craven successfully re-creates the mixture of dread, hedonism, questioning, ambition, sex, and love that young people went through at the time. The plot follows several graduates of an Ohio high school through the firing of a popular teacher for suggesting there was a right of Thoreau-type civil disobedience, through Kent State, and through facing the draft lottery.
The characters have diverse values and goals, and the film is further enriched by portraying older characters like an FBI agent, a lawyer, and the fired teacher. The historical footage is used tellingly, for instance in one segment where a shot of police carrying a protester away is followed by one of soldiers carrying out a dead comrade in the same way.
TYTT, as it’s called on some Web sites, has already won People’s Choice and Best Regional Film at the Cincinnati International Film Festival, and here in Vermont, the People’s Choice Bessie Award from the Burlington Arts Council.
Craven said about three-quarters of those who have come to see it were people reliving that era, but about 20 percent were young people of the same age as the characters, wondering what it was really like back then.
There are no easy answers in the film. The ending won’t be revealed here, but just remember that “Charlie” was also what soldiers in Vietnam called their Viet Cong and North Vietnamese opponents.