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.