Directed by Jay Craven (Where the Rivers Flow North)
Starring Jacqueline Bisset (Bullitt, Truffaut’s
Day for Night), Christian Coulson (The Hours, Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets), Diane Guerrero (Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin), Shane Patrick Kearns (Blue Collar Boys), and Gordon Clapp (NYPD Blue, Flags of our Fathers).
Set in 1872 Nantucket, Peter and John tells the story of two brothers whose relationship strains when the younger one receives word of a mysterious inheritance–and both bothers become attacted to the same young woman who arrives on their island.
Don’t forget the important fundraiser for the KCP Presents performance series–3pm, Sunday, July 19th in Peacham. With fabulous food and music by skyrocketing new San Francisco bluegrass stars, Front Country.
Jacqueline Bisset and Christian Coulson in Peter and John.
Road adventures with Peter and John
By Jay Craven
The Vermont theatrical premiere of my new film, “Peter and John,” opens tonight, to start a special two-week run (Friday, July 10th through Thursday, July 23rd) at Catamount Arts. I’ll be at the 5:30 and 7:30pm shows on Saturday, July 11th, to discuss the film and how we made it.
We played four Vermont May preview dates of the film in early May. Since then, I’ve made several picture changes and improved the color and sound. We premiered the film on June 27th at the Nantucket Film Festival and have played subsequent Cape Cod and Island dates to full house audiences in Dennis, Vineyard Haven, and, again, in Nantucket. And, last Friday, we opened a week at the fabulous Cape Cinema in Dennis, with its art deco decor marking the feel of a bygone era. The theater and balcony includes 317 black lacquer and tangerine suede arm chairs draped with white linen bibs-and a 6,400 square foot Rockwell Kent mural covering its ceiling, depicting a vision of the heavens offering comets, galaxies and constellations alongside pairs of dancing lovers. We logged our biggest attendance ever during our week at the Cape Cinema-playing to 1436 people.
The Rockwell Kent mural at the Cape Cinema
It’s uncanny-the extent to which the initial release of a “handmade” film resembles the birth of a new child. We always approach the date facing people’s huge anticipation and high expectations, especially when you work to involve the community in the making, funding, and publicizing of the film. Despite this, the process of getting a presentable print is unpredictably fraught with turbulence and false starts. At our first Nantucket festival date, the screen went black, twice, during the first 10 minutes of the show. A huge groan went up from the large sell-out crowd.
But there it was-a black screen with sound still playing. I sprang from my seat, worried that we’d continue to see this interruption. Or that the film would just roll to a total stop. I scrambled into the projection booth, where three technicians were troubleshooting every conceivable problem. It was quickly determined that the problem was in the Nantucket projection system-not our film master. But it didn’t matter.
We finally figured out the trouble-the house manager was communicating with the sound technician over her headset and every time the sound guy responded, he leaned forward and touched a data screen, turning the picture off. This incident spoiled the screening for me and I have no doubt that it took many people out of these crucial moments of the film. But this stuff happens.
Our second festival screening went pretty well-and the Dennis premiere was fabulous. The film was finally settling into its groove. We played to 505 more people on Nantucket last Sunday-and, again, people responded well and the technical presentation was flawless.
On Martha’s Vineyard, last Monday and Tuesday, we played to full house audiences. And I was tickled to see MacArthur Award-winning African-American scholar, filmmaker, and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at the Monday screening. He turned to me as he left, after the screening, to say he “loved” the film. And Gates smiled as he called me “the James Brown of movies,” for all the work making the film with students and barnstorming to New England towns. “The hardest working man in show business,” I said to Gates, recalling the Godfather of Soul’s well-earned reputation, for his non-stop touring and full-tilt performances. Gates nodded and then pronounced the moniker the way James Brown would have. I got a good laugh.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. stopped by to see Peter and John in Vineyard Haven
“Peter and John” is based on the 19th century novel “Pierre et Jean” by Guy de Maupassant and it’s set in 1872 Nantucket. The film tells the story of two brothers whose relationship strains when the younger one receives news of an unexpected inheritance-and both brothers become attracted to the same young woman who arrives on their island. The film stars Jacqueline Bisset (“Bullitt”), Christian Coulson (“Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets”), Diane Guerrero (“Orange is the New Black”), and Gordon Clapp (“NYPD Blue”).
“Peter and John” was shot in Nantucket, but it has Northeast Kingdom fingerprints all over it. Our production company, Kingdom County Productions, is based in Peacham but, more importantly, three St. Johnsbury Academy alumni worked on the film, which was made through the Movies from Marlboro film intensive program I direct at Marlboro College-where 22 professionals mentor and collaborate with 32 students from a dozen or more colleges, to make an ambitious film for national release.
Actress Tessa Klein plays a small but indelible part as the sturdy but beleaguered wife of troubled Civil War veteran Jake Rivers. Tessa grew up in Walden and graduated from the Academy with my older son, Sascha, in 2000. I met Tessa when she was a 10th grader and I led a playwriting workshop at the Academy. She immediately stood out as a gifted writer and performer. Tessa’s short play was selected for a performance by professional actors at Burlington’s Flynn Theater and it was also included in a published anthology of the best teen-written plays from the first five years of the Vermont Young Playwrights program. She also joined a large group of teen writers, some of whom traveled more than 100 miles round trip to meet every Saturday during the cold and snowy winter of 1998 to collaborate on the script for “In Jest,” a wacky homemade teen comedy we shot that summer in Cabot.
Actress and NEK native Tessa Klein
Tessa excelled as an emerging dramatic writer-but she turned to acting once she landed at Pittsburgh’s prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. While there, she spent a year in advanced conservatory training in Moscow. Since then, Tessa played a small part as Little Gretchen in my 2007 film, “Disappearances” and she has made a name for herself in a variety of well-reviewed New York theater productions, including the highly-decorated Broadway production of “The War Horse” at Lincoln Center, where she performed opposite David Lansbury, the star of our 1997 film, “A Stranger in the Kingdom.” It’s a small world – in film and theater.
Abbey Volmer grew up in Craftsbury and she plays a casual romantic interest of title character John Roland in “Peter and John.” Abbey graduated from St. J. Academy in 2010 and she just earned her B.A. from Boston’s Emerson College. In addition to the small part she plays in the film, Abbey worked wonders in the fabulous “Peter and John” costume department, where she rose to every challenge of fitting, sewing, altering, and maintaining expensive costumes. She also proved to be very good at negotiating details and concerns with our veteran star actress, Jacqueline Bisset–not an inconsiderable talent. When actors arrive on set, I depend on their good and relaxed treatment in hair and make-up chair and the costume department to prepare them for effective work on camera. Abbey showed just the right touch.
Abbey Volmer’s St. J. Academy graduation photo
Our Emmy-winning costume designer, Sarah Beers, had to leave our production for another job halfway through our film shoot. Sarah did an extraordinary job designing the film’s stunning costumes–and mentoring her students. And she had faith that her hard-working crew, including Abbey, could run this crucial department after she departed. The students exceeded all expectations-and “owned” the specific narrative of all that this imaginative and hard-working team made happen. Another North Country gal, Mount Holyoke junior Alison Pugh, from Tamworth, NH, led the department, in Sarah’s absence-and she plans to go to work with Sarah in New York this fall.
Emmy-winning Peter and John costume designer & VT native, Sarah Beers
Josh Cobb grew up in Lunenburg, VT and, after he graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy, he was sent for two tours of duty in Afghanistan as a member of the Vermont National Guard. Josh is now at Lyndon State College where he is one of the film program’s student leaders, appearing behind and in front of the camera. Josh proved to be a steady player and a quick study for the vital job as one of our assistant directors. He helped organize and mobilize the crew every day – and he worked with Vermonters Dave King and Francine Fayette, both from Burlington, to plan demanding daily schedules that kept our production on track. Josh epitomized the “can do” spirit of the “Peter and John” crew, which was 68% female, by the way (the industry average is 15%). He earned everyone’s respect for showing patience and respect, even when under intense pressure to “make our day.” We hope to bring Josh back for our next project.
LSC film student and Peter and John AD, Josh Cobb.
Our unusual production model, working with student collaborators, is motivated by a desire to provide transformative learning opportunities inspired by early 20th Century philosopher and education pioneer John Dewey’s call for “intensive learning that enlarges meaning through the shared experience of joint action.” Today, when so much of young people’s learning experience is individualized and rooted in the solitary acquisition of information, we saw important learning opportunities when students work with mentors and peers to take on substantial responsibility.
I recently screened a Peter and John preview at Mount Holyoke College, one of our key partners for the project. Three young women who worked on the film watched intently and then spoke about their experience. They started by talking about a fabulous shot in the film where two lead characters gallop on horseback across the Nantucket moors.
It’s pouring rain in the shot and the students started by exchanging quips about how wet and cold it was; how the horses were uncooperative and required food and soothing; how the two girls who doubled our lead actors were soaked and freezing and had to be costumed and made up – one to look like a guy with a mustache and the other as our Hispanic female lead. They talked about having a technical crew of only two students and how they had to shield the costumes and our expensive camera from the gale-force wind and rain. And they explained how the mother of the girls, was justifiably ticked off because the shoot had to be re-scheduled, after she had already taken a previous day off from work. And they reminded me that the day they managed the scene was THEIR day off.
Mount Holyoke’s Ali Pugh (right), from Tamworth, helped lead the costume dept. Lizzie Whittaker (left) was Peter and John’s prop master
The story these gals told was as bad as any you could imagine. But they had huge smiles on their faces as they told it. Like Abbey Volmer and Josh Cobb they owned the narrative of their own complicated episode. And now they saw the fruits of their labor. The skills they developed on the film shoot went far beyond filmmaking and will serve them well-no matter if they work in film or as a civil engineer, school teacher, or organic farmer. They’ve got a leg up.
John Dewey again: “We only think when confronted with a problem.” And, “A problem well-put is half solved.”
Our film intensive requires lots of work but it creates an elastic framework that helps us experiment with a needed compliment to course-based learning. Students develop interdisciplinary skills that add substantially to what’s possible in the traditional classroom. We work to cross content lines by cultivating interdisciplinary skills of critical thinking, evidence-based inquiry, creative interpretation, contextual analysis, openness to new ideas, joint planning and collaboration, risk-taking in the process of creative discovery, fair-mindedness and flexibility in the face of challenges or new information-and much more. These skills prove useful when navigating the complex challenges of the real world. Josh, Abbey, Tessa, and Alison have all shown that they are well on their way.
“Peter and John” screenings will take place at Catamount Arts – at 7:30pm from Friday, July 10th through Thursday, July 23rd. There will also be 5:30pm screenings tonight through Sunday. And 1:30pm matinees on Sundays and Wednesdays.
A new edition of Jay Craven’s Movies from Marlboro film intensive semester is slated to start in January 2016. College students wishing more information can go to Movies.Marlboro.edu – or contact Jay Craven (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Peter and John crew
“Peter and John” was produced by Jay Craven and Virginia Joffe through the Movies From Marlboro (MfM) program, a biennial film intensive semester jointly produced by Marlboro College and Kingdom County Productions. As with the MfM 2012 production of “Northern Borders,” 22 filmmaking professionals mentored and collaborated with 32 students from 12 colleges (Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Boston College, University of Vermont, Lyndon State College, Dartmouth, Smith, Sarah Lawrence, Emerson, Antioch, London School of the Arts, and Marlboro). A 2016 Movies from Marlboro production is now in development (info at Movies.Marlboro.edu)
Producer Virginia Joffe w/ Peter and John actors.
Jay Craven’s seven feature films include Disappearances (2007 with Kris Kristofferson and Charlie McDermott), Where the Rivers Flow North (1994 with Rip Torn and Tantoo Cardinal), and Northern Borders (2013 w/ Bruce Dern, Genevieve Bujold, and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick). His pictures have played 58 countries and 73 festivals, including Sundance-with special screenings at The Smithsonian, Lincoln Center, Le Cinémathèque Française, the Constitutional Court of Johannesburg, Anthology Film Archives, the American Film Institute, Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard Film Archives, George Eastman House, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Jerusalem Cinematheque, Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela, Beijing Normal University and others.
Craven’s commitment to New England place-based filmmaking was recently profiled by Orion Magazine that wrote: “Jay Craven has come closer than any other filmmaker to realizing (American poet, essayist, and film theorist) Vachel Lindsay’s dream of a vital regional cinema that embodies the character and genius of a place in all its mystery, magnificence, and pain.”
Presented by Kingdom County Productions and Marlboro College working in association with sponsors including Hy-Line Cruises, Cape Cod Five, Compass Rose Real Estate, Cabot Creamery, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, Passumpsic Savings Bank, Hingham Savings Bank, Cisco Brewers, Nantucket Vineyard, Triple Eight Distillery, The Inquirer and Mirror, Mahon About Town.
Media sponsors: WMVY, WOMR, The Inquirer and Mirror, and