June 23, 2018

‘Hunger Games’ producer Jon Kilik comes home

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Jon Kilik, a 1978 graduate of the University of Vermont, fields audience questions at the Majestic 10 movie theater in Williston on March 25, after a screening of the Kilik-produced ‘The Hunger Games,’ which set the opening weekend box office record for a non-sequel with gross receipts of $155 million. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

You might think that the producer whose new movie just had the third most lucrative opening weekend in motion picture history would take some time to relax. Perhaps he could treat himself to a dinner of caviar and foie gras, or maybe just put his feet up on the desk in his palatial Hollywood office and enjoy a cigar and a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue.

Think again.

Instead of wining and dining with Tinseltown’s beautiful people, producer Jon Kilik was at the Majestic 10 movie theater in Williston, politely answering questions after a screening of “The Hunger Games,” which took in a staggering $155 million in domestic box office receipts during its weekend premiere and trails only “The Dark Knight” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” among opening weekend coups.

The March 25 event at the Majestic 10 was a homecoming of sorts for Kilik, a 1978 graduate of the University of Vermont. Perhaps best known for his longtime collaboration with director Spike Lee, Kilik also produced such distinguished films as “A Bronx Tale” – the directorial debut of Robert De Niro – and the Julian Schnabel-directed “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which critic David Denby of The New Yorker referred to as “nothing less than the rebirth of the cinema.”

The screening of “The Hunger Games” was preceded by remarks from Kilik’s former teacher, UVM Professor Emeritus Frank Manchel, whom Kilik credits with inspiring his career in the film industry.

Before turning his attention to the man of the hour, Manchel paid tribute to Lucille Jarvis, the matriarch of Vermont moviegoing and former co-owner of the Majestic 10, who passed away in 2010.

“She represented the highest ideals of film exhibition in Vermont and in many parts of the country. The people who met Lu admired her; the people who knew Lu loved her,” said Manchel of the woman in whose honor proceeds from the event were donated to the UVM Film and Television Studies Program.

Regarding Kilik, Manchel stated: “Jon, for me, is a visionary. He sees an imperfect world, he identifies dangers we don’t see and he creates films with responsibilities that we cannot avoid. … He is justifiably considered today one of the finest motion picture producers in the industry.”

Shifting his comments to “The Hunger Games,” Manchel told the audience that they should view the film in the context of the science fiction genre, which has traditionally been based upon social criticism.

“My concern is that no one seems to understand the science and the social criticism in the film,” Manchel said. “At the very time we are watching a movie in which innocent children are forced to kill each other by a sick society, we are also witnessing an enraged America demanding justice for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whose only crime was that he was black.”

While Suzanne Collins wrote the source novel, “The Hunger Games,” well before the recent controversy surrounding the death of the Florida teenager referenced by Manchel, Collins has acknowledged that the inspiration for the book came while channel-surfing between a reality television competition and footage of the Iraq War.

The movie, which takes certain dramatic liberties while remaining generally faithful to its source, concerns a 16-year-old girl (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who saves her younger sister by volunteering to participate in her place in the “Hunger Games” – a barbaric competition in which one boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts of a post-apocalyptic nation fight to the death until one survivor remains.

While the premise sounds tailor-made for such chronic bloodletters as Sam Peckinpah or Quentin Tarantino, Collins intended it as a young adult story, and many of the audience members at the March 25 screening were pre-teens.

Kilik addressed the question of the film’s depiction of violence by referencing the title of Errol Morris’ 2003 anti-war documentary “The Fog of War,” suggesting that the direction of Gary Ross – whom Kilik previously worked with on the 1998 fantasy “Pleasantville” – utilized hand-held cameras to subjectively portray the blur of combat, rather than objectively show its bloody reality in long-shot.

“It’s a war story. And when you’re in battle, you’re not in a wide shot,” said Kilik. “The camera was what was violent.”

Although Kilik is no stranger to prestige – as evidenced by the Kilik-produced 2006 Best Picture Oscar-nominee “Babel” – “The Hunger Games” is his first bona fide blockbuster.

But Kilik said he approached the material no differently than any other project.

“In a way, it is like every other movie I’ve ever done. I can’t change how I work, or my taste, or how I approach making the movie. I only know one way,” Kilik said. “But this one is definitely striking a nerve. People are seeing something in it, and yet it’s made very artistically, I think. It’s a very sophisticated type of filmmaking.”

Bringing the conversation back to his nascent years under the tutelage of Professor Manchel during the American film renaissance of the 1970s, Kilik stressed that character-driven stories have shaped his cinematic sentiments to this day.

“It’s about people, and that’s what all my movies have been about,” said Kilik, “and to have a movie be about people and have it be indie, alternative, sophisticated filmmaking with complex visuals and sounds and editing and cinematography, it proves that an audience isn’t as stupid as Hollywood says it is, and people are going to come out like crazy to see it. That’s what this weekend really proves.”

Sugar low: Warm weather leads to shorter maple syrup season

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Mike Isham, owner of the Isham Family Farm on Oak Hill Road, stands beside his evaporator, which is used to boil sap into maple syrup. Due to warm weather, Isham’s boiling season ended prematurely on March 20. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

The end of winter coincided with the end of maple syrup production last week, as 80-degree temperatures cut short a sugaring season that typically runs through mid-April.

While local sugarers can remember years where there was little snowfall, there was a general consensus among Willistonians in the maple business that the mildness of this year’s sugaring season is without precedent.

“Talking to my dad, he said there’s been years like this when there was no snow all winter, but it never warmed up like this,” said Mike Isham, the fifth generation owner of the Isham Family Farm, established in 1871.

Isham said he typically produces 500-600 gallons of maple syrup annually. This year, he made 247 gallons.

But Isham explained that fickle temperatures are part of the business, and that the warmer the weather, the darker the grade of syrup produced.

“Early in the season there’s a lot of ground cover and snow and the weather’s colder so the sap stays colder,” Isham said. “It’s colder coming to the sugarhouse and it stays colder in the sugarhouse, so you have less bacteria. Then as the weather gets warmer, you get more bacteria in the sap, and so the sap gets darker.”

Although warm weather can produce excellent syrups – from table-grade “A” dark amber to grade “B” syrup used for cooking – sugarer Mark Yandow said his last boil of the year on March 21 produced grade “C” (aka “buddy syrup”), not for table consumption.

“I knew we were on borrowed time,” he said.

Yandow said he produced 510 gallons of syrup this year from 3,000 taps, compared to 800 gallons last year from just 2,600 taps.

Yandow’s wife, Amy, said the lower-positioned tap holes on her family’s sugar maples told the tale of the season.

“Last year when we were tapping we were on snowshoes,” she said.

Bernie Comeau, a sugaring neighbor of the Yandows, said that bad maple crops are part of the business – just like any form of agriculture.

“I’m not crying poverty, simply because this is agriculture, and it’s totally weather-driven,” Comeau said. “We try to plan our customer base. We do some wholesale, but we try not to do so much of it that it will wipe a poor crop out.”

But Comeau added that he hopes the past winter was an anomaly – not a precursor of things to come.

“My hope is that this is just a trend and not a real global warming thing overnight,” Comeau said. “I hope it’s just a weather glitch.”

PHOTOS: CVU girls basketball championship

Photos by Glenn Fay

Championship game last Saturday (March 17) . Rice 46, CVU 41.

PHOTOS: CVU Girls basketball championship

Photos by Shane Bufano

Championship game last Saturday (March 17) . Rice 46, CVU 41.


This Weeks Popcorn: “John Carter”

Salt of the Earth on Mars


2 & ½ popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


“John Carter” contends that, to get in touch with your inner humanity, you must take an inexplicable trip to Mars, come to the aid of a beautiful princess and serve as a heroic soldier of fortune in a civil war among three alien warring groups. Well, isn’t that always the way? Maybe it’s why director Andrew Stanton confoundingly keeps his plot a secret.

Far too much of our time is spent trying to figure out the simplest story details. Too bad. Because, like Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront” (1954), “John Carter” “coulda been somethin’,” a spectacular contender for some serious prizes, instead of an unnecessarily complicated, overlong also ran in the special effects sweepstakes.

But ah, what a fine spectacle of a CGI-enhanced epic if you can keep your growing impatience in check. Colorful, grand and even more so in the optional 3-D, the F/X vistas are expanded to complete razzle-dazzle proportions. Pardon the sacrilege, but Mr. Stanton has found the movie magic potion…Cecil B. DeMille in a silicon chip.

If only his storytelling matched his ability to awe the ocular nerves. The trickle style exposition, wherein several half storylines are sporadically presented, is as inconvenient as it is artless. This might be OK if “John Carter” were a mystery. But here it’s like Aesop not telling us until the final paragraph that the hare has a competitor in the tortoise.

Partially ameliorating the uncomfortable compulsion to ask your moviegoing partner questions you feel might sound stupid, like, “Is he just imagining this?’ is the establishment of two clear-cut protagonists of the eye candy variety. Handsome Taylor Kitsch stars as the title character. Purple-eyed Lynn Collins is Princess Dejah Thoris.

A whole bunch of good supporting players, difficult to recognize either because they’re in otherworldly costumes or merely the voices of animated personae, can challenge your spell check program. Characters like Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), leader of the quadruple-armed Tharks, and a nice sort once you get to know him. Some aren’t so nice.

Maybe it’s just my prejudice against Zodongans. But we don’t trust for a second Sab Than’s (Dominic West) intentions, even though he’s human-like. Head of the Zodongans, he’ll spare Barsoom’s (Mars) other group of “red people,” the peace-loving Heliumites, if their king, Tardos Mors (Ciarán Hinds), consents to let him wed the desirable Dejah.

Don’t worry. You can’t possibly give too much of this tale away without reciting a veritable encyclopedia, including a who’s who section of Barsoom’s denizens, both red and green. This is all adapted from the prolific pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Although better known for his “Tarzan of the Apes,” he wrote several books in this series.

Relating once how he had come to authorship, Burroughs said, “If people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, [then] I could write stories just as rotten…. although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read….”

Thus, if the mood and texture of this saga seem like dime novel pulp, then the screenwriters have done the author proud, or ignominious, depending on your point of view. But if you can forget for a moment your degree in belles-lettres from Oxford, this is rousing and imaginative stuff. Sometimes, literary slumming can be a good respite.

Iconically formulaic, there is a treat in knowing this most closely resembles the genuine template that led to countless similar movie adventures, especially in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. You know the deal…an amalgam of biblical, historical and mythical yarns, woven with near humorous abandon and not a chronological care in its fictitious world.

Here the empires of Helium and Zondonga channel ancient Rome, replete with metal-adorned fashion: variations on what the well dressed gladiator will wear, with cues of Carnaby Street and a dab of Times Square bling. Plopped into this scene with scant explanation is Earthman John Carter, Army of the Confederacy, honorable discharge.

Don’t look for rhyme or reason. Suffice it to note he’s soon the cause célèbre among Tharks, the green Martians that really look gray. They don’t fly, whereas Heliumites and Zodongans do, in planes that float on light waves, which, I think, is the way we should go in the future. Abandoned oil company structures could be refitted for affordable housing.

Of course John doesn’t want to be a hero, until he meets Dejah, the kind of gal who could not only make your lazy son finish college, but maybe even rescue a civilization. If only Dejah had also met film editor Eric Zumbrunnen, surely she could have convinced him that a half hour less mumbo-jumbo would make us love “John Carter,” too.

 “John Carter,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios release directed by Andrew Stanton and stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe. Running time: 132 minutes 





Dems support early educators

The Vermont Democratic Party State Committee unanimously passed a resolution in support of early childhood educators’ right to organize at a meeting in Randolph last Saturday, according to a press release from Vermont Early Educators United-AFT. The resolution states that the party “supports collective bargaining rights in Vermont for all workers,” and refers to the efforts of thousands of early childhood educators who are organizing to pass legislation, S.29/H.97, this year, and recognizes the importance of early childhood education for children’s future success in school and as adults. This legislation recognizes early educators’ right to negotiate with the state regarding issues such as subsidy reimbursement rates and professional development. The bill passed the House by a vote of 90 to 54 last session and is currently under consideration in the Senate, according to the release.


Outright Vermont launches ‘Safer Schools Report Card’

Outright Vermont has launched the 2011-2012 Safer Schools Report Card.

The organization began the Safer Schools Report Card in 2009, surveying administrators in all public high schools in Vermont to highlight efforts being made to improve school climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ or queer) youth. In order to get a more comprehensive understanding of school climate, Outright is expanding the project and this year’s Safer School Report Card will survey students about their experiences and perceptions of school climate specifically related to LGBTQQ issues. The survey is available in paper and online versions, as well as by download from Outright’s website. As an incentive, Outright will be awarding a $500 prize to the school with the highest percentage of student participants.

Saben Littlefield, Outright’s Education and Statewide Field Manager, said, “This is a really exciting step for us to take. Getting students’ perspective about their experiences in Vermont’s schools will tell us a lot about what the school climate is actually like. This data will help inform our work, and will be shared with schools so they gain a better understanding of what queer youth are experiencing.”

Results from the Safer Schools Report Card will be published in the 2012 Queer Youth Pride Report in June. For more information about the Safer Schools Report Card, or about Outright Vermont, visit outrightvt.org or contact Saben Littlefield (Saben@outrightvt.org) or (802) 865-9677.

Williston event to benefit VSO school programs

“Uncorking Spring,” a benefit gala for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s school programs, will be held Saturday, April 21 at Gardener’s Supply Company in Williston from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The fund-raising event includes an evening of wine tasting, great food, music by the Harp and Soul duo and door prizes. Proceeds from the gala will support the VSO’s SymphonyKids educational outreach programs in the Champlain Valley.

The “Uncorking Spring” evening is organized by VSO volunteers and supported by local merchants who are contributing fine wines, Vermont cheeses and elegant desserts. Gardener’s Supply Company is offering a 10 percent discount on all plants and merchandise and donating 10 percent of the evening’s sales to the VSO schools program in the Champlain Valley. Numerous businesses and individuals in the Champlain Valley are underwriting the event to enable all proceeds to go directly to SymphonyKids presentations.

The SymphonyKids educational outreach program features a duo, a quartet, five trios, and a Musical Petting Zoo that visit schools statewide. VSO musicians introduce students to the symphony orchestra and share the message that classical music can be fun. Last year, SymphonyKids reached over 10,000 schoolchildren with 70 presentations serving 48 schools throughout the Champlain Valley.

“Uncorking Spring” tickets are $25. For additional information and tickets, visit the vso.org, call 864-5741 x 25, or e-mail mike@vso.org.


Monica Boutin

Monica L. Boutin, 53, passed away after a brief illness on Feb. 27, 2012, in Fletcher Allen Health Care. She was born March 15, 1958 in Burlington to Mary Boutin and the late Leo J. Boutin Jr. Monica spent most of her life helping out on the family farm, and was always willing to help her parents with anything. She was a devoted Mom to her only daughter, Christina, who, in turn, was the center of her world. She will be forever missed by her many friends and neighbors, especially Lorraine and Joanne Martel, as well as Scooter and Jazzy, who will forever be looking for their favorite doggie- sitter. Monica is survived by her cherished daughter, Christina; devoted mother, Mary Boutin; brothers, Kevin Boutin Sr. and Alba, Leo Boutin III and Mona, Michael Boutin and Mark, Gary Boutin and partner, Julie; sisters, Tina Gallison and Dean, and Loretta Lynch; brother-in-law, Harold Lewis; grandmother, Loretta Beaupre; numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews; and many good friends at Maple Tree Place. Monica was predeceased by her father, Leo Boutin Jr.; brother, Steven Boutin; sister, Kimberly Lewis; paternal grandparents, Winifred and Leo Boutin Sr.; and maternal grandfather, Howard Beaupre. Visiting hours were held on Thursday, March 15 and were immediately followed by a Memorial Service at Gifford’s Funeral Home in Richmond.

Gloria Ann Conant

Gloria Ann (Linsenmeir) Conant died on Sunday, March 11, 2012, at her home, surrounded by her family, one day after the birth of her thirteenth great-grandchild, thereby completing another circle of life. She was born on Jan. 14, 1926 in Syracuse, N.Y. to Marion and Francis Linsenmeir. She attended Burlington schools and graduated from Cathedral High and Burlington Business College. In 1947, she married Ransom Martin Conant. They were the fifth generation to act as stewards of Riverside Farms in Richmond, where they raised their family of six children. Ranny died in March of 1969, leaving Gloria to raise their family and to run the family farm in an era when women seldom stepped into that role. She leaves a legacy of love and care, welcoming many children, including several nieces and nephews into the family. Gloria served as a member of the Vermont House of Representatives and later became a member of the University of Vermont Board of Trustees. She served on the Board of Directors of the Federal Farm Credit Banks. She also served as a director of the New England Dairy and Food Council, the Champlain Valley Milk Producers Cooperative and the Milk Promotion Services Council. She was a chairperson of the Vermont Governor’s Agricultural Advisory Board, and a trustee and director of the Eastern States Exposition. She was involved in the Richmond community as a chairperson of the Richmond Zoning Board, a member of the Richmond Planning Commission, the Friendship Chapter of the Eastern Stars, the Republican Town Committee, and the Chittenden County Chapter of Business and Professional Women. Gloria was honored at the World Dairy Expo and awarded National Dairy Woman of the Year in 1983. She was inducted into the Vermont Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2003. She leaves a legacy as a businesswoman, but most important to her is her legacy of strong family values. She is survived by her family, Mary Lynn and Terry Riggs; Liza and James MacAuley, and Maeve and Elsie Mae; Tyler and Jensen Riggs, and Magnus and Josie; Will and Eleanor Rigg; Sarah (Sally) Conant; Courtney and Steve Boutin, and Addie, Lily and Bella; Katie and Will Lawlor, and Avery and Willy; Molly Turpin; David and Deb Conant; Hannah and Matt Dransfield, and Lev and Nina; Ransom Conant and Alison Kosakowski; Emily and Drew Donovan, and Zell and Oliver; Gilly and Travis Rohlin; Kim and Jo-Anne Conant; Sam Conant and Chelsea Conant; Jay and Patti Conant; Corey and Meghan Conant; Kyle Conant; Chris Conant; Jessi Conant; Ali Conant; and Nate Conant; as well one very close “fifth son”, the late Bobby Clairmont. Gloria is predeceased by Ransom Conant; her brother, Reg Linsenmeir; her daughter-in-law, Denyse Conant; and Roger Daniels. A special thanks goes out to Betsy Preston, NSS. Funeral services were held on Thursday, March 15 at Richmond Congregational Church, Bridge Street, Richmond. In accordance with Gloria’s wishes, contributions may be made to The Bella Fund in order to defray the medical cost related to her great-granddaughter’s liver transplant. Donations can be made in care of Nancy M. Boutin, 83 Cascade St., Essex Junction, Vt. 05452.


Everyday Gourmet

By Kim Dannies

Kitchen mirth

Certain vegetables have reputations for being very naughty girls, when, in fact, they’re only guilty of consorting with the wrong kind of (cooking) crowd. Case in point: eggplant, the Lily Bart of the food world. While raised to be a good and proper vegetable, gossip- mongers perpetuate the notion that she’s a leech, or even worse, a full-blown oil sucker. These rumors have taken root only because cooks have consistently mistreated her. They blindly follow traditional recipes that call for one to two cups of olive oil as a standard way of preparation. It’s turned eggplant into a social pariah, a calorie-loaded burden that no one wants to be seen with.

Another vicious rumor about elegant eggplant is that she’s fussy, that she needs to sit salted for hours before cooking, or she will behave bitterly. This is simply not true.  Eggplant is sweet and well mannered and full of character. Buy a mid-sized, firm-fleshed beauty, cook it sooner rather than later, and you will have no problem with the lady.

It’s time society stood up for beautiful, healthful, delicious eggplant. The simple truth is that one good sized eggplant can be coated in 1-2 tablespoons of oil (via a gallon zip lock bag) and she will comport herself just as well as one soaked in cups of hot oil. Eggplant thrives on being invited to dine: roast, stew, even fry her, but please – kindly quit maligning her.

Seared Tuna & Eggplant

Peel and cube a medium sized eggplant and toss with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. In a hot non-stick sauté pan add 1 medium chopped onion and 2 sliced celery stalks; sauté for 10 minutes, drizzling in a small amount of oil if needed. Add the eggplant and sear, turning, for 2 minutes. Add 2-cups of crushed tomato, 3-minced garlic cloves, 1- tablespoon capers, 3-tablespoons chopped olives, 3-minced anchovies, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 1-tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1-teaspoon sugar. Simmer covered for 15 minutes. Grill tuna steaks to desired temperature, top with plenty of the sauce. Serves 6.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France.  She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three twenty-something daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.