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.
BURLINGTON DISCOVER JAZZ FESTIVAL
May 30–June 8
Now in his late 70s, Ron Carter has appeared on more than 2,000 jazz recordings — a staggering figure if you pause to think about it — but his reputation is built on quality, not quantity. “Among the greatest accompanists of all time,” wrote music biographer Ron Wynn, “the epitome of class and elegance … close to being the bass equivalent of a Duke Ellington.” Carter appears on a double bill with venerable saxman Benny Golson, and the festival, as always, astutely covers the rest of the spectrum, from safe-and-sound to fearlessly progressive. Among many highlights, look for legendary singer Tony Bennett, violin star Regina Carter, soundscape trio Dawn of Midi, a Belizbeha reunion, and Linda Oh’s Sun Pictures Quartet. For total immersion, consider the festival’s many meet-the-artist sessions, art exhibits, street concerts and nightclub spinoffs.
Impressionist works by Monet, Manet, Degas and other French masters will be on view June 14 through Sept. 1 in “In a New Light,” an exhibit drawn from the Shelburne Museum’s collection as well as loans from private sources and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In other new exhibits, both showing May 11 to Oct. 31, “Nancy Crow, Seeking Beauty: Riffs on Repetition” presents works by the renowned contemporary quilter; and “Trailblazers: Horse-Powered Vehicles” looks at parallels between 19th-century transportation and modern automotive culture.
ROGER KATZ: A LIFETIME OF PHOTOGRAPHS
Vermont Center for Photography
Born in Detroit in 1947, Roger Katz moved in the ’60s to Brattleboro to attend Marlboro College, and he never left, making the town his home, owning various photography shops or studios, and becoming an unassuming patron of the photographic arts in the community. Katz died of cancer in 2013, and though he never had an exhibit of his work during his lifetime, the Vermont Center for Photography is honoring their friend with a display of more than 100 vintage gelatin silver prints, which cover a span of time from the 1970s through 2012. The Center says Katz “had a distinct ability to capture portraits on the street. His humble and quiet approach to his surroundings lent itself perfectly
to acting as a ‘fly on the wall’ as life played out in front of him.”