October 25, 2014

Tax tips for small businesses

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By Jeanne A. Hulit 

As you settle down after the busy holiday season, you will soon face another season…tax season! As a small business owner, you need to understand how taxes are going to affect you and your business. It is important that you file properly, avoid audits, and claim the right tax deductions.

Here are a few tips that may ease the burden of tax preparation and to help you get ready for the April 15, 2013 deadline.

Keep Good Records

Proper record keeping year-round is the first step to ensuring your taxes are filed accurately and that you have the paperwork you need to back up your deduction claims should you be audited.

Understand Your Deductions

What small business deductions can you take? Do you have the documentation and original receipts to back them up? Tax credits and deductions change each year.

Utilize the Small Business Jobs Act Tax Provisions

The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 signed into law by President Obama has more than 17 tax provisions decreasing the tax burdens for small businesses—several of these provisions can be taken advantage of during this year’s tax season. Utilizing these provisions will provide great savings for your business.

Remember the tax credits within the Affordable Care Act

These tax credits will allow small businesses to cover up to 35 percent of the premiums a small business pays to cover its workers. In 2014, the rate will increase to 50 percent.

Avoid Common Audit Traps

It is very important to be aware of potential red flags and act on them before the IRS does.

Classifying employees as independent contractors. Independent contractors and employees are not the same, and it’s important to understand the difference. In the eyes of the IRS, misclassification can be seen as an attempt to avoid payroll taxes, and non-compliance can bring penalties and back taxes.

Home office deduction. This deduction is very specific and not all home-based businesses will qualify. Likewise, if you run your business from a commercial location and claim the home office deduction, you might trigger some interest from the IRS. Know how to determine if you are eligible to claim it, and what specific expenses you can write off.

Large sum miscellaneous deductions. If you claim a large amount of itemized deductions relative to your income, the IRS will get suspicious. Likewise, if you bucket a large amount of miscellaneous expenses, you may raise eyebrows. Be specific and label every deduction.

Keep Business and Personal Expenses Separate

The IRS scrutinizes personal expenses that may have been claimed as a business expense, such as the use of a business vehicle for personal use. Be diligent about keeping good records. Maintain a separate bank and credit card account for your business.

For additional information on these tax tips and current year tax deductions, visit the SBA Small Business Tax Guide at www.sba.gov or contact the IRS www.irs.gov.

 

Jeanne A. Hulit is the associate administrator for capital access and acting New England regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

 

Academic Honors

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Local students on deans’ list

The following Williston and St. George students were named to their college or university dean’s lists:

– Holly Bertolet, Muhlenberg College

-Pavel Bitca, Champlain College

-Victor Bitca, Champlain College

–Ryan Landvater, Cornell University

-Laura Meunier, Lasell College

–Molly McClintock, Saint Anselm College

–Gregory Nelson, Rhode Island Institute of Technology

-Nicholas O’Brien, High Point University

–Briana T. Pudlo, Saint Anselm College

–Sarah A. Reed, Saint Anselm College

– Jenna Schultz, SUNY Potsdam

-Eleanor Wallace, Providence College

–Madeline Zebertavage, SUNY Geneseo

 

Nursing students join honors program

Williston residents Audra Allen and Carly Kissane from Williston of the Vermont Technical Institute’s associate’s degree in nursing program have been invited to join the Vermont Tech’s newly formed chapter of the Alpha Delta Nu Nursing Honor Society, founded by the National Organization for Associate Degree Nursing.

Bolger on honor roll

Williston resident Greg Bolger was named to the Saint Francis Xavier Middle School Honor Roll for the first trimester.

Flu season early and busy

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By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

This flu season is “earlier and busier” than recent seasons, said Dr. Ann Wittpenn, a pediatrician at University Pediatrics in Williston.

The Vermont Department of Health website reports that the state’s flu activity level is “widespread,” meaning at least half the regions in the state are reporting cases of confirmed influenza or flu-like illness.

Williston School District Head Nurse Lisa LePrevost said school nurses haven’t seen unusual levels of the flu, but she urged parents to take precautions and communicate with the school district. Williston Central and Allen Brook schools have had 15 confirmed cases of influenza this season, though not all parents report the illness to the school.

LePrevost sent an email to parents last week requesting that they notify school staff if their child shows flu-like symptoms. She also sent a guide to preventing the spread of the flu.

“The key for preventing the flu is just good health habits that can stop the spread of germs,” LePrevost said. “Avoid close contact with people who are sick, keep your children home when they are sick.”

Basic health habits like frequent hand washing, coughing into the crook of the elbow and keeping hands away from the nose and mouth can help keep students healthy.

“Adults and kids all need to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, get plenty of fluids and manage stress as best as (they) can,” LePrevost said. “If we all work together, we can all keep germs from spreading and help keep the schools healthy.”

LePrevost and Wittpenn both recommended the flu vaccine.

“Everyone over 6 months should be getting the flu vaccine,” Wittpenn said.

Vaccinations are especially recommended for pregnant women, people 50 years of age and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions, people who live in nursing homes and long-term care facilities and people who live with or care for those at risk, including infants under 6 months.

Vaccinations are available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies and supermarkets, Vermont Department of Health district offices and college health centers.

For more information, dial 2-1-1 or visit www.healthvermont.gov.

Willistonian lends hand to Guiding Eyes

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Williston native Kathleen Leach served as a Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppy raiser for Dove, a female Labrador retriever. Leach is currently studying animal science and pre-veterinary medicine at the University of Rhode Island. Dove is studying to be a guide dog at Guiding Eyes’ training center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. (Observer courtesy photo)

Williston native Kathleen Leach served as a Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppy raiser for Dove, a female Labrador retriever. Leach is currently studying animal science and pre-veterinary medicine at the University of Rhode Island. Dove is studying to be a guide dog at Guiding Eyes’ training center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Ever since she was a little girl, Williston native Kathleen Leach knew she wanted to work with animals. So when the time came for her graduation challenge project at Champlain Valley Union High School, she got a head start on her career path by becoming a puppy raiser with Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

“I’ve been saying I wanted to be a vet since everyone was saying that in first grade, and I just never really grew out of it,” Leach said. “Doing this puppy raising with Guiding Eyes was right along the track I want to be on.”

Founded in 1954, Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a guide dog school headquartered in Westchester County, N.Y. Though it employs professional dog trainers when puppies reach young adult age, Guiding Eyes relies on volunteers to raise pups during the maturation period of 8 weeks to 18 months old.

“Honestly, a lot of it is very similar to someone who is a very devoted puppy owner who just wants to have a really well-trained dog,” Leach said. “One of the main things puppy raisers do is teach the dogs what kind of temperament is appropriate in different situations. So for example, when they’re at home, they can be playful and playing with their toys and sniffing around and having fun, but if you’re out with other people there’s going to be a very different energy.”

Rachel Silverman, a Guiding Eyes regional manager whose territory includes all of Vermont, noted that the making of a guide dog begins before birth, through selective breeding. All told, the training process takes about 2 1/2 years, including the time spent with puppy raisers. If at any time during the process a canine is deemed unsuitable for guide dog work, it is either sold as a pet or is given the opportunity to “seek other careers,” such as police detection or therapy work through Guiding Eyes’ Heeling Autism program.

“Usually whatever career they choose is a good one for them, and that is a priority for us—that a dog is going somewhere where they’re going to enjoy what they’re doing,” Silverman said. “We don’t want to force a dog to become a guide dog. They’d just be stressed out.”

Guiding Eyes offers guide dogs to the visually impaired free of charge, despite the fact that the average cost of the program is $45,000 per dog. It is funded through private donations and charity events and depends on volunteers like Leach to maintain its livelihood.

Leach began raising Dove, a female Labrador retriever, during her junior year at CVU. When she left home in September to study animal science and pre-veterinary medicine at the University of Rhode Island, Dove stayed behind with family for two months before passing her Guiding Eyes exam and leaving the nest to begin formal guide dog training.

“That was devastating. Giving her back was really difficult,” Leach said. “But the final goal and the light at the end of the tunnel is that she (will be) graduating with someone who really needs her. Knowing that she’s going to fulfill a job that’s going to drastically change someone’s life, that’s really what helps us get through the transition of not having her anymore.”

Despite the sadness of parting with Dove, Leach said she hopes to raise another puppy this year. She is currently in discussions with officials at Guiding Eyes and the University of Rhode Island to establish a Guiding Eyes chapter at URI.

“From a student standpoint it will be pretty difficult, because I have a pretty rigorous course schedule to be prepared for vet school, so I know that having a puppy with me will make it pretty difficult and I’m going to have to be much more diligent about my studies,” she said.

But she pointed out that training a puppy to be well-behaved during college lectures will give it a leg up on other guide dog trainees that spend days relaxing at home.

“I think it would be so rewarding for that puppy to have much higher standards set for it than one of the other puppies,” Leach said.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is currently seeking puppy raisers in Northern Vermont. For more information, contact Rachel Silverman at [email protected] or (845) 661-1014. Puppy raising classes are held Thursday evenings at the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in South Burlington.

Selectboard halves projected budget increase

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The penultimate week of budget season in Williston ended with a request from the Williston Selectboard to Town Manager Rick McGuire: Find a way to cut the proposed increases to the town’s operating budget in half.

As originally presented in early December, the town’s proposed operating budget of $8,924,780 for fiscal year 2014 represented a 2-cent increase over the current municipal property tax rate of 23.23 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The Selectboard’s request to McGuire to shave the tax rate increase from 2 cents to a penny equates to $165,400 in budget cuts.

Selectboard member Chris Roy suggested Tuesday that the $165,400 in desired budget cuts can effectively be halved by increasing budgeted revenue projections of $2.69 million for the town’s local option tax to the actual collected revenue figure of $2.77 million in fiscal year 2012. The amended local option tax revenue assumption is realistic, Roy said, because current fiscal year revenues are exceeding expectations locally and outside data has shown that both state and national sales tax revenues are increasing.

“It is, to my mind, still very conservative to take actual revenues from fiscal year 2012 and use them as the revenue figure for fiscal year 2014, which would assume absolutely no increase over the course of two years in those revenues, when everything we’re seeing indicates that they will increase somewhat,” Roy said.

The other Selectboard members—Terry Macaig, Jeff Fehrs, Debbie Ingram and Jay Michaud—consented to Roy’s suggestion, leaving between $80,000 and $90,000 in cuts still to be identified.

Ingram questioned whether the standard merit increase of 0-2 percent for town employees should be revisited in light of challenging state and federal economic climates.

“Most people I know, their salaries have just stayed the same since 2008 basically,” Ingram said. “They have gotten cost of living increases. They haven’t gotten any raises. I’m just trying to think if we should all be in the same boat.”

Michaud said the budgeted salaries should be dialed down only as a final resort.

“If we can achieve some additional savings somewhere else in the budget before we tackle (wages) I look at that as a last alternative, because one thing I’ve learned is you always want to recruit and retain the best people,” Michaud said.

McGuire will have until the next Selectboard meeting on Jan. 28 to put together the $80,000 to $90,000 package of budget cuts for board endorsement.

At the same time, he will also be tasked with hashing out final details of a proposed public works garage off Mountain View Road to replace the 37-year-old facility currently in use off James Brown Drive. Although figures have yet to be finalized, McGuire suggested Tuesday that he and Public Works Director Bruce Hoar have found ways to cut approximately $1 million from the new building’s projected $7.7 price tag—not including the estimated $1 million windfall from the sale of the existing facility.

“When I first started with the town it was almost exactly 15 years ago. And there were three major projects in the capital budget then that had to get done. One was the new police station. One was the new fire station. The other was the public works garage,” McGuire said. “So this goes back to before 1998 that this was envisioned as a project that the town needed.”

If endorsed by the Selectboard on Jan. 28, both the fiscal year 2014 operating budget and the issuance of a municipal bond to finance the public works facility will be subject to voter approval on Town Meeting Day.

Leah Boardman goes for gold in South Korea

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Observer courtesy photoLeah Boardman (right) handles equipment sponsored by Alpine Shop owner Andy Kingston (left). Boardman will compete in the 2013 Special Olympics World Games later this month, one of just four Vermonters to compete. (Observer courtesy photo)

Leah Boardman (right) handles equipment sponsored by Alpine Shop owner Andy Kingston (left). Boardman will compete in the 2013 Special Olympics World Games later this month, one of just four Vermonters to compete. (Observer courtesy photo)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

When Leah Boardman hits the ski slopes in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Jan. 29, she will be one of just four Vermonters among 157 Americans to participate in the 2013 Special Olympics World Games.

It’s a responsibility the 19-year-old Williston resident isn’t taking lightly.

“I am proud,” she said. “I want to win. I’ll do my best. But even if I don’t win a medal, that’s all right.”

Boardman is no stranger to medal ceremonies. A veteran of Special Olympics basketball, bocce, bowling and soccer competitions, she was chosen for the World Games by a drawing from a pool of alpine skiing gold medalists from the 2012 Special Olympics Vermont Winter Games at Suicide Six Ski Area in South Pomfret.

The 2013 Special Olympics World Games will serve as a precursor to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, which previously fell short in host city bids for the 2010 and 2014 winter games held in Vancouver, Canada and Sochi, Russia.

Boardman’s mother, Susan Fayette, acknowledged the weight of her daughter’s honor.

“I’m sure it will be very emotional,” Fayette said. “They’re really being ambassadors to the United States when they go over there.”

Boardman works as a chef assistant at Pillsbury Senior Communities and is a student in the University of Vermont’s Think College program. She lives at The Whittle House, a community residence in Williston’s historic village for people with developmental disabilities.

Whittle House co-owner Sharon Whittle said that while Boardman was initially reluctant to take up ski racing, she stuck to her rule that playing at least two sports is a requirement for residency.

“If you don’t want to (play sports) you don’t have to live here. It’s one of our requirements, and it turned out to be a good one,” Whittle said. “It’s part of socializing, it’s part of strength-building, part of being healthy and making friends.”

Roland Luxenberg, Boardman’s ski coach, said he has noticed an improvement in her attitude and discipline over the past year.

“Definitely her approach to skiing is different from last year,” Luxenberg said. “At The Whittle House, Sharon really encourages participation, but I’m sure the selection to the (World Games) has really made her see the benefits of participating and enjoying it while you’re doing it.”

Boardman almost had to bow out from the World Games due to a meniscus tear in her left knee suffered during a basketball game last summer. She refused surgery and instead opted for physical therapy.

“It didn’t stop me. I let it heal on its own,” Boardman said. “The pain comes and goes. Some days I’m fine, and some other days it hurts.”

When asked what advice she would give to other aspiring athletes, Boardman suggested that there can indeed be gain from pain.

“Try your best and don’t give up,” she offered to future Olympians. “Even though there’s times I do get tired, I still keep going.”

Kennel cough outbreak linked to canine flu

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Kennel cough is quickly becoming the worst enemy of man’s best friend, with scores of cases reported by local veterinary centers and animal hospitals over the past month.

But unlike past outbreaks in Vermont of canine upper respiratory infections, the recent surge in kennel cough cases can be partially attributed to canine influenza virus.

“Kennel cough is more of a syndrome than a specific diagnosis,” explained Dr. Joel English, a veterinarian at River Cove Animal Hospital in Williston. “We attribute, and most people associate, kennel cough with Bordetella, which is a bacterial infection. But there are a lot of different things that can potentially create the syndrome, and on that list is canine influenza.”

According to a 2005 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, canine influenza is a newly emerged pathogen in the canine population that is believed to have been caused by the H3N8 equine influenza virus, which jumped species from horses to dogs. There is no evidence that it can be transmitted to humans.

English said River Cove has seen as many as 50 cases of kennel cough in the past four weeks. He recommended that dog owners immediately contact a veterinarian if their dog shows symptoms such as coughing or sneezing.

“It’s very important to intervene early and get the antibiotics started to prevent the pneumonia that can follow,” he said.

Dr. Ryan Canales of Long Trail Veterinary Center, located in Williston’s historic village, estimates that he’s treated 30-40 cases of kennel cough since Christmas. He said that none of the dogs in Long Trail’s boarding facility have shown symptoms.

“If an owner calls and says they have a dog that’s coughing, we would bring them in through the back, not through the front office,” Canales said. “We wouldn’t bring them anywhere near the boarding part of the hospital.”

Ericka Canales, practice manager at Long Trail Veterinary Center, said LTVC will hold a canine influenza vaccination clinic from Jan. 28 to Feb. 9. The canine flu vaccine is different from the more common Bordetella vaccine, which is often recommended for kenneled dogs as a preventative measure for the bacterial form of kennel cough.

Williston-based Gulliver’s Doggie Daycare, in conjunction with Essex Veterinary Center, is planning a canine flu vaccine clinic for Gulliver’s customers on Feb. 9. Amanda Poquette, Gulliver’s general manager, said her staff is also asking pet owners to help prevent the spread of kennel cough by keeping sick dogs in the house.

“Any dog showing any kind of symptoms we’re asking them to stay home,” Poquette said. “If we find that a dog is already in our care and starts to show symptoms, we isolate them from the other dogs right away and call parents. Like kids at school that are sick, we ask them to come pick them up.”

Amy Haskell, owner of Show Me the Biscuit! dog training center in Williston, said her facility has avoided an outbreak of kennel cough by not accepting dogs that have been boarded in the past three weeks.

“When we heard about it, we took precautions not to get other people’s dogs infected, and that meant restricting the dogs who could come in the building,” Haskell said.

Dr. English speculated that the recent canine influenza epidemic could have been triggered by the large number of rescue dogs that have been shipped to Vermont of late.

“Our local community is not very local when it comes to dogs anymore because of all the rescues,” he said.

But English added that it is too soon to fully evaluate the likelihood of future canine flu outbreaks, or whether the canine influenza vaccine will become as commonly administered as the Bordetella vaccine.

“What we have to do now is really evaluate (the canine influenza vaccine’s) effectiveness and what the relative risk is going forward to identify whether it’s worth using or not,” English said. “That’s the big question right now, is do we need to start considering this as a vaccination that we include as one of our non-core vaccines.”

PHOTOS: CVU Celebrate the Arts Night

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Students displayed visual art, fashion designs, photography, technology and films at Champlain Valley Union High School’s annual Celebrate the Arts night on Jan. 9. The night included performances by school bands, choruses and actors. (Observer photos by Jayson Argento, www.lakechamplainphotography.com)

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 Cameron-Harris-Shelburne-on-trike-and-Drew-Cooper-Hinesburgh-on-Camera-3
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PHOTOS: CVU boys hockey

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The Champlain Valley Union High School boys hockey team defeated Stowe High School 6-1 on Jan. 12. (Observer photos by Shane Bufano, www.shanebufano.com)

Redhawk Pat Keelen takes a shot during Saturdays hockey game against Stowe High School. CVU whacked Stowe 6-1. For more photos, visit the Web Extras section. (Observer photos by Shane Bufano)

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THIS WEEK’S POPCORN: “Promised Land” goes over old ground

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By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer

 

Until some economic genius invents a great solution or we humans evolve considerably, the problems posed in director Gus Van Sant’s “Promised Land” will continue to plague us. Civilization’s ever-changing financial systems can’t help but strew new batches of winners and losers throughout the landscape, upsetting our lifestyles along the way.

In this specific microcosm, the ever-declining feasibility of small farm America and new, game-altering discoveries of natural gas beneath those compromised meadows and fields have intersected with dramatic consequence. Arriving to profit from the resultant opportunity is Matt Damon’s Steve Butler, gas company deal closer extraordinaire.

He’s a nice guy in a questionable occupation. Being interviewed at movie’s outset for a major promotion, we get a snapshot. The victim of a Caterpillar plant closing back in Iowa that reverberated through an agrarian community dependent on jobs to subsidize its fading way of life, he is a staunch realist who peddles his background with a vengeance.

Shades of the much more sophisticated and fanciful “Local Hero” (1983), about Big Oil trying to buy up a small Scottish village, here the venue is rural Pennsylvania, and the 9- Billion dollar company looking to have its way is a natural gas titan named Global. No surprise, Steve’s incursion is met with the gamut of reactions. For this, he is prepared.

However, he isn’t quite ready for the wild card that presents itself in the form of John Krasinski’s Dustin Noble, the energetic point man for Athena, a heretofore unfamiliar environmental group. While Steve has come up against such opposition in the past, this pesky adversary is hard to figure. Soon combatants, they battle for adherents.

Aiding Steve in his mission is wisecracking colleague, Sue Thomason, played with cynical wit by Frances McDormand. A single mom evincing not nearly a soupçon of the compassion we at times detect in Steve’s eyes, she’s about the commissions. Add to these personae Rosemary Dewitt as Alice, the local schoolmarm, and the formula is in place.

Expect neither great surprises nor some philosophically profound answer to the conundrum in question. Indeed, fracking, the method by which Global unearths the land’s hidden treasure, remains controversial. Steve begrudgingly acknowledges that, but in the same breath contends, plain and simple, if you’re not for gas, then you’re for coal and oil.

Thus, once again, we are presented, thanks to the 1st Amendment exemplified in film, with yet another feature length mulling of Hobson’s choice. But then that’s part of being human. We’re perennially figuring how many angels will fit on the head of a pin, a habit begun in our superstitious past and now applied to our so-called enlightened present.

Expectedly, the townsfolk take sides. It’s the eco contingent following the lead of local wise man Frank Yates ( Hal Holbrook) —now suddenly abetted by Krasinski’s operative—against the realists, pragmatists and a sprinkling of rather unsavory opportunists. Hence, if one is a thinking person, you just can’t help being a little betwixt and between.

Fact is, we like Steve, probably because he is the everyman in all of us… a regular sort trying to find the path between altruism and practicality. When he takes more than just a business interest in teacher Alice, but finds his affections impeded by the nervy Dustin, he seems the underdog. But sorry, can’t tell you about the twist that’s in store.

Suffice it to note that having the gray area of the plot overlaid with the uncertainties represented by the drama’s natural enemies supplies an elevating element to the scenario. A solid portrayal by Mr. Krasinski, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mr. Damon, lends new invigoration to what is essentially an old cliché in currently topical clothing.

Good supporting performances establish the local color and personalize the quandaries confronting the citizens of the Pennsylvania burg. Tensions rise. To frack or not to frack? It’s a loaded question, delivered with an implied insult to a long cherished heritage. The gas company didn’t create the economic crisis, but it sure is taking advantage of it.

Global is an apt name for the megalomaniacal corporation in this metaphor. Count on a steady stream of such commiserative dramas as we struggle and adjust to doing business in a continually expanding world economy. All of which is but a variation on a recurring theme: man against the machine and the attempt to preserve humankind’s dignity.

I think we’ll win in the long run, though it could take a few centuries. You see, we have it in us, a hopeful notion tendered in this and almost all films about the daunting odds our species must continually overcome. And rest assured, after we find a solution to the woes outlined in “Promised Land,” you have my good word we’ll be on to the next dilemma.

“Promised Land,” rated R, is a Focus Features release directed by Gus Van Sant and stars Matt Damon, John Krasinski and Frances McDormand. Running time: 136 minutes