Indie Films Showcase Labor and Love at Vermont Filmmaker’s Showcase

“Indie filmmaking has never had it so good,” John Summa told me. We were sitting in his Old Mill office, surrounded by stacks of towering books. Summa, an Economics professor at UVM, wrote one of the films featured at the Vermont International Film Festival’s Vermont Filmmaker’s Showcase.

His documentary, The Resurrection of Victor Jara, received the Ben & Jerry Award Friday October 23. This recent success is the result of a process that was anything but easy.

“It’s hard to have the money to do it right,” Summa said.

Because of a tight budget, Summa edited the entire documentary himself in the Old Mill basement. He spoke about the time he spent laboring over the film as “1000 hours of love pay.”

This is a challenge many of his fellow Vermont filmmakers also faced. After the screening of two locally made short films on Friday October 23, members of the production teams of both films hosted a question and answer session.

Both crews pointed to low budgets as the biggest hurdle they overcame during production. Annelise Sanders, the screenwriter for The Fairies’ Child, said many scenes were filmed in her backyard in Shelburne.  

Joel Walter, the director of photography for Celina Brogan’s striking film mens rea, told the audience he had to stand outside filming on a frozen Lake Champlain to capture one of the film’s most crucial scenes. When her hands got too numb, their lead actress ducked inside  Walter’s car, not a fancy Hollywood trailer.

Summa and his crew also faced a unique complication while filming Victor Jara: translation. The film centers around the life of Latin American singer and activist Victor Jara, so much of it is Spanish.

Before the short film screenings during the Vermont Filmmaker’s Showcase, I ran into Juan Carlos Vallejo in the lobby of the Black Box Theater. He saw my conspicuous note pad (most of the other patrons were holding wine glasses or plates of hor d’oeuvres) and beckoned me over.

Vallejo worked with Summa on the subtitles of The Resurrection of Victor Jara.

“A good translator isn’t literal. They interpret what the director wants to say, not what they show,” Vallejo told me.

Summa also spoke to this challenge, telling me before he rewrote the subtitles, his brother had to watch an early test of the film twice. Once to actually watch the the documentary, and once to read the subtitles.

“Good subtitles need to be looked at, instantly understood, and then your eyes can wander back to the image,” Summa said.

Despite all the difficulties of making Indie films, as awards were announced in the Lake Lobby of Main Street Landing, the passion and love these filmmakers have for their work was evident in the familial atmosphere of the room.

Friends hugged, colleagues had animated discussions and congratulations were exchanged.

“I almost don’t want it [the filmmaking process] to end because it enriched my life in so many ways. Yes, I have scars from it, but I didn’t get divorced,” Summa confessed, laughing.

“It’s a labor of love,” Summa said.

After spending my weekend at the Vermont Filmmaker’s showcase, I have gotten an opportunity to see both the labor and the love inherent in this craft.

Filmmaking, especially as an Indie filmmaker, is hard work. But Summa doesn’t think that should scare people off.

“You don’t have to be a film guru to be a good filmmaker. Anybody can do it. It’s more about the determination.”