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Q&A: Filmmaker Bess O’Brien

Written by Sky Barsch on . Posted in Entrepreneurs, Q&A, The Arts

Bess O'Brien. Photo by Richard W. Brown.

Bess O’Brien. Photo by Richard W. Brown.

Documentary filmmaker Bess O’Brien gives voice to Vermonters not often heard, such as foster families in “Ask 
Us Who We Are,” or recovering drug addicts in “The Hungry Heart.” She lives in Peacham with filmmaker-husband 
Jay Craven. Here’s her take on teenagers, Vermont’s drug issues, and drawing the 
line between work and home.

VL: What did you think of Gov. Shumlin making opiate addiction the center of his State of the State address?
BO: I thought it was amazing. I got 
a call a couple of days before the new year saying that he had watched [“The Hungry Heart”] with his staff and that he was very moved by the movie, and that he had decided to focus his entire State of the State on prescription drug addiction. I thought it was a huge step forward in dealing with this issue. It was a brave and bold move.

VL: There was some pushback on his speech that it was going 
to hurt tourism. Do you think 
there’s any validity to that complaint?
BO: That’s like saying people are never going to go to 
New York City because the crime 
rate is so high. I would be astounded to think that it would affect 
tourism in any significant way. I think what it probably does is make people think, “Huh, perfect, idyllic Vermont is struggling with an issue … ” Well, there is no perfect, idyllic anything. People should be saying, “Wow, I’m really proud of Vermont for standing up and being the first state to admit that they have this issue and are trying to tackle it in a big way.” That is healthy. That’s positive.

I think the most important thing 
that the governor said was that we needed to move the conversation away from criminal activity to a health issue. People need to realize that people who are struggling with this are our families, our neighbors, our brothers, our uncles. It can happen to anybody.

VL: What’s it like working with your husband?
BO: (Laughs) Well, it can be great, and it can also be really difficult. And in fact, we don’t really work together anymore. We both are the owners and run Kingdom County Productions, but he does his feature films and I do my documentaries. Frankly, it works out better that way. We’re both strong-minded people, and when we were working on top of each other, it was thrilling, but it also got difficult because we butted heads on a number of things.

VL: What are you doing when the tape isn’t rolling?
BO: I love to go to the movies with [Jay]. We are total film buffs. One 
would think that you’d be sick of looking at films

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Más Luis: More Q&A with Luis Guzmán

Written by Vermont Life on . Posted in Q&A, Web Exclusives

Actor Luis Guzman as photographed by Richard W. Brown.

Actor Luis Guzman as photographed by Richard W. Brown.

In the Winter 2013-14 edition of Vermont Life, Melissa Pasanen interviewed actor Luis Guzmán about social work, Hollywood, skiing misadventures and parenthood. Here are a few questions that didn’t make it into the print interview due to space limitations.


VL: From Boogie Nights to the cult television show, Community, your list of credits is renowned for its length and diversity. Are there any projects that really stand out?
LG: Early on, I did a movie with Sidney Lumet called Family Business. It was two days’ work. I had one scene with Dustin Hoffman. I grew up 10 years in the business just from that one scene with Dustin. Sidney whispered in my ear, “Hey kid, I really like you, and I’m doing another movie in the spring.” So I did Q & A with Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton and Armand Assante, and it was the first time that I was in the movie from beginning to end, my first true character movie. Sidney gave me my shot. From there on, my roles became more significant. I did Carlito’s Way, which really blew me up. To this day people think my name is Pachanga, the character’s name.

VL: If Rusty DeWees ran for Governor, would you consider a run against him?
LG: Yes. My platform would be maple syrup and wood chips for all ― and less wind turbines.

VL: What doors has your acting career opened ― and has it shut any?
LG: I have had the most incredible life. And I’m talking about before becoming an actor. I’ve seen a lot of stuff. This man that used to work with Sidney [Lumet], one of his assistant directors, he once said to me, “Your life is your reference.” And that to this day has stuck to me.

When I worked for the Henry Street Settlement, my thing was a program called Job Shop. I had two weeks to prepare young people for a job interview. I used to always ask: “Who are you? Where are you going? And how are you going to get there?” And I come to find out ― these kids who were high school dropouts, teen parents, some had had brushes with drugs, alcoholism or the law ― nobody had ever asked them these questions. To this day, it was probably the best job I ever had because I was in a position to help people help themselves.

As an actor, I’ve gotten to see the world, meet people, experience things that normal people don’t: learning forensics, shooting firearms, hanging out with cops, getting into helicopters, going to A-list parties. You get a lot of access to stuff. But I’ve always believed that one of the biggest and most important things is having the opportunity to give back. I’m in a position that I can make a difference. I went homeless for three days in New York City and we made a movie. We’ve been showing it around the country, raising awareness and money for homeless shelters. That’s part of my roots. That’s part of my foundation. I still consider myself an activist.

VL: Do you feel a responsibility to the Latino community to be a role model and to avoid stereotypical characters?
LG: I don’t consider myself a role model for Latinos. I consider myself a role model for the universe. And I don’t think I do stereotypical roles. You know, so much has changed. The American fabric has changed. Being Latino is not taboo in this country anymore.

VL: I hear you’re a great cook. What’s your favorite food and what do you like to cook for your family?
LG: I like cheddar cheese with garlic in it, roasted garlic. And of course, I love my maple syrup, and I love fresh, sweet summer corn. I always cook Thanksgiving dinner. I make a Puerto Rican turkey. I garlic it all up and stuff it with sofrito, a Puerto Rican condiment. And then I just baste that baby with fresh garlic. Then I make arroz con gandules [rice and pigeon peas] and pasteles, like tamales but Puerto Rican. And I make baked fresh apple pie, from scratch, with butter.

Take 5 | Jen Hazard

Written by Sky Barsch on . Posted in Q&A

Jen Hazard

Jen Hazard, who reviewed a restaurant in our Spring issue, writes about food, family and travel, and her work has appeared in Maine Magazine, The Portland Press Herald and others. She and her family divide their time between Yarmouth, Maine, and Manchester, Vt.

1. How did you discover Sissy’s Kitchen, which you wrote about in Springs Out to Eat?
JH: We have friends that live in Middletown Springs, where Sissy’s Kitchen is based, and
they’ve always had great things to say about her food.

2. You divide your time between Manchester, Vt., and Yarmouth, Maine. How are the food scenes similar and different?
JH: Both are small, historic, family-friendly towns. Yarmouth has a lovely park with a river running through it. The mountains surround Manchester’s town park, which never gets old. I enjoy taking walks with my family in both places. The food culture is similar too. In Yarmouth, we have a neighborhood market in town called Rosemont that was recently mentioned in the New York Times for its focus on locally sourced foods and produce. In Manchester, I love Al Ducci’s Italian Pantry. Like Rosemont, they make great specialty foods (the fresh mozzarella comes to mind), and Al Ducci’s focuses on local products. And of course, both towns have wonderful farmers markets, although I wish Yarmouth’s market could be as lively as Manchester’s.

3. What are some of your favorite family-friendly activities in the Manchester area?
JH: Once a year, the Manchester Farmers Market allows area children to sell homemade baked goods and crafts. The kids set up small tables and take great pride in selling their work. It’s such a sweet event. We also love taking family hikes in the Ethel Pew Forest, which is practically in our own backyard, and the Equinox Preserve.

4. You write a lot — blogs, essays, feature stories — and you have two young children. How do you find the time?
JH: My children are 4 and 5 years old, so finding time to write is always a challenge. I work when the kids are at school or late in the evening. My in-laws are incredibly helpful too. I’m fortunate to have a supportive family and a reliable sitter!

5. What’s a dream story you are just dying to write?
JH: I have two books swirling around in my head right now — a potential memoir and a fictional story set in Maine. I just need more time!

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