Filmmaker revisits Williston’s past and living history

Green Mountain Video owner Jim Heltz shoots footage for his upcoming documentary ‘Williston Revisited: A Community Portrait’ at the July 3 Town Band concert and ice cream social. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

A lot has changed in Williston in the past 20 years.

Two decades ago, Maple Tree Place was farmland. Wal-Mart hadn’t been built. Allen Brook School didn’t exist.

In 1990, Williston had a population of less than 5,000. In 2010, it was more than 8,000.

Green Mountain Video owner Jim Heltz moved to Williston in 1990, just prior to its development boom and population explosion.

“When I moved to Williston, back in 1990, there was no supermarket, there was no pharmacy,” Heltz said. “You’d have to either go to Hinesburg or you’d have to go to Essex Junction or South Burlington to go to a supermarket or find a pharmacy.”

In 1991, Heltz began filming “Williston: A Community Portrait.” The resulting documentary, which packed two-plus centuries of Williston history into a 26-minute runtime, won awards from the Vermont Historical Society and American Association for State and Local History.

A few years ago, Heltz developed an itch to update the history of his adopted hometown.

“I wanted to show the change in Williston over the past 20 years,” he said. “When I found out that the town was having the anniversary of the chartering, I wanted to do the project again. It was time. There was a good 20 years between the first one and the one I want to do.”

Heltz, who is collaborating with local photographer and journalist Steve Mease on the film’s screenplay, said the updated documentary will examine the role technology plays in the modern-day conception of community.

“We do want to ask about the other sense of community, the electronic version of community, which is Facebook and Twitter and Williston Front Porch Forum,” Heltz said. “I think with some of the community it doesn’t really change anything for them, and for some others it really has a big impact.”

The town of Williston was chartered June 7, 1763—exactly 250 years prior to Heltz’s self-imposed deadline for “Williston Revisited: A Community Portrait.”

June 7, incidentally, is also the birthday of Ginger Isham, whom Heltz interviewed in the first installment of Williston’s filmic history. Heltz observed that the adaptation of the Isham family’s farming methods is emblematic of Williston’s evolution as a whole.

“Their story is very similar to Williston’s development, how they’ve changed in that 20 years,” Heltz said of the Isham Farm, which today produces maple syrup, corn, sunflowers and berry products. “In the last video, the Isham Farm was a dairy farm with Jersey cows. There’s one calf on the premises now. So they’ve diversified how they’re farming. It’s farming, but it’s not usually what you’d think of when you think of a Vermont farm.”

Like the Ishams, Heltz has adapted to changing times.

The first Williston community portrait was made for $10,000 on Betacam SP, then the industry standard for video production. The updated documentary, which has a projected budget of $20,000, will be filmed in widescreen high-definition digital.

Heltz will also largely dispense with voiceover narration in favor of on-camera interviews and visual montages set to music.

“One thing I would like is for Williston musicians, if they have some music that they think might be appropriate for this film, to send it to me,” Heltz said. “I’d be more than happy to put it in and give them a credit, because there are going to be certain sections where it would be great to have some local music.”

Heltz added that he’s open to feedback from any Willistonian, whether musically inclined or not.

“If you have some stories, let us know,” Heltz said. “We’d be happy to chat.”

Visit williston-revisited. for more information about “Williston Revisited: A Community Portrait,” or to make a donation toward its production costs.