Craven and Mosher
Remembering Howard Frank Mosher – This Summer On Tour
Vermont novelist Howard Frank Mosher died on January 29th of this year. Filmmaker Jay Craven worked closely with the Northeast Kingdom writer since 1985, making five films based on his stories. Craven will be on tour this summer, screening his first Mosher feature film,“Where the Rivers Flow North,” and providing reflections on his three decades of collaboration with the Northeast Kingdom writer.
In his sonnet, “How My Light Is Spent,” 17th century writer John Milton meditated on the growing fact of his blindness. As his curtain of darkness fell, Milton openly considered how his talents might be diminished during the last half of his life. Milton reveals his logical frustration in the poem, along with his resolve for perseverance and patience, even as he questions his life’s purpose. And he expresses an affecting humility before God as he faces his own limitations and re-considers his aspirations.
Milton was one of a handful of writers, also including Faulkner, Dickens, and Shakespeare, who especially inspired Howard Frank Mosher. Howard admired Milton’s surly social critiques and he considered “Paradise Lost” a touchstone. Indeed, in his rowdy and ambitious epic tale, “Disappearances,” Mosher tackled “the fall from Eden” as a central theme.
I’m sure that Howard thought of Milton during his final days. Because, once blind and impoverished, Milton persisted, writing many poems, including “Paradise Lost,” after he’d lost his sight. When Mosher realized last December that he might have only a few weeks to live, he worked around the clock to finish his final novel, “God’s Kingdom,” that will be released this fall. He rushed it to his editor who replied promptly. “I wouldn’t change a word,” he said.
Like John Milton, Howard refused to forsake his writing in the face of daunting news about his health. When I saw him just a couple of days before he died, I congratulated Howard on the completion of his final work. He smiled, despite his obvious discomfort. “Just under the wire,” he gently joked, giving a thumbs-up.
Like his character, Quebec Bill, in “Disappearances,” Howard Mosher was an indefatigable optimist and adventurer. He wrote every day, in longhand on yellow legal pads, and lived his life, non-stop, with visions of character and story percolating in his imagination. I was lucky to have had the experience of these same Mosher characters and stories animating my life and thoughts as I developed and produced five films based on Howard’s stories.
This month, I’ll take to the road to reflect about my long collaboration with Howard Mosher and share some of the many stories that, to me, demonstrated his remarkable talent, grace, insight, generosity, wit, and irrepressible spirit. I’ll recall times like the day we planned to shoot the pivotal bathtub scene in “Where the Rivers Flow North,” when lead actor Rip Torn, after our hours of waiting and cajoling, refused to come out of his trailer. Undone by Torn’s intransigence, I knew I had only one place to turn. And when I called Howard and detailed my predicament, he got into his car and headed straight to our film set, an hour south of his home. You might be surprised to hear the outcome.
We’ll also present a 25th anniversary screening of “Where the Rivers Flow North” at these Mosher tribute events. “Rivers” was our first feature film – and it remains the most remarkable adventure of my life. The picture has made many friends on the road and it was a finalist for Critics Week at the 1993 Cannes International Film Festival. The late great actor Gregory Peck was asked at a Houston, Texas public event to name his favorite films of all time. He singled out “Where the Rivers Flow North” for its haunting evocation of a distinctive Vermont time and place – and its “remarkable” performances by Academy Award nominee Rip Torn and Native American actress, Tantoo Cardinal.
Like most of Mosher’s stories, “Where the Rivers Flow North” conjures larger-than-life characters and articulates a vivid sense of Vermont rooted in Howard’s historical imagination of place—our place. I hope you’ll join us to remember all that Howard gave to us – that will endure.
Director Jay Craven will open each evening with prepared and off-the-cuff reflections that explore his long collaboration with Mosher. He will then present a 25th Anniversary screening of his first Mosher feature film, “Where the Rivers Flow North,” starring Academy Award nominee Rip Torn, Native American actress Tantoo Cardinal (“Dances with Wolves,” “Legends of the Fall”), and Michael J. Fox.
Set in 1927 in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, “Where the Rivers Flow North” tells the story of an old logger, Noel Lord, and his Native American mate, Bangor, who face the extinction of their way of life when the local power company plans to build a giant hydro dam that will flood them off their land. Lord and Bangor face emotional and physical challenges as they struggle with the power company, Vermont’s unforgiving terrain, and their own thorny relationship.
“Where the Rivers Flow North” played more than thirty festival dates including Sundance, Seattle, Avignon, Vienna, and Vancouver. Special screenings include The Smithsonian, Lincoln Center, and Harvard Film Archive. The picture was also one of three U.S. finalists for Critics Week, Cannes International Film Festival. Critical comments include: “Breathtakingly beautiful.” (Bob Mondello, NPR); “A freshness rarely seen on screen.” (Caryn James, NY Times); “Powerful and unconventional.” (Geoff Gilmore, director, Sundance Film Festival) and “Remarkable performances” (actor Gregory Peck).
The Mosher Tribute tour is produced by Kingdom County Productions with sponsorship support from Vermont Public Radio. For more information contact Jay Craven (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Tour sponsored by Vermont Public Radio!