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Film Review: Blood drive film is tough but optimistic
By Jim Lowe, Rutland Herald Staff Writer, Tuesday October 26, 2010
“The Blood in This Town” is no fluff piece. It shows Rutland as a has-been industrial town, “warts and all,” and does not mince words.
But, anyone watching New York filmmaker Art Jones’ documentary, which had its first screenings at the Paramount over the weekend, will leave the theater with immense respect for the community — and hope.
The real story is of the fortitude and ingenuity of the townspeople who are in the process of turning the seemingly impossible situation around. And, better yet, people are able to laugh at themselves — and, in this film, we are able to laugh with them. It’s quite entertaining as well as guardedly optimistic.
Jones came to town last December to chronicle Rutland’s annual “The Gift of Life Blood Drive” at the invitation of Steve Costello, Central Vermont Public Service director of public affairs and an organizer of the drive. They had a goal to establish a New England record for the most blood received in one day— 1,000 pints.
Jones and his film crew were there for the countdown — to see if this little city, of 16,000 had the gumption to beat Boston and be first.
In the process, Jones discovered Rutland. Talking with the hundreds of people who came to give blood, he realized there was a bigger story to tell. Any town that was digging in to do something as important as collecting a record amount of blood to save others’ lives wasn’t sitting around waiting for providence to solve its problems.
Jones’ film took 80 minutes to portray Vermont’s second-largest city and its efforts to come out of the economic disaster bigger and better. Rutlanders may well be aware of these efforts — though I suspect many are not — but fellow Vermonters will certainly be surprised by the scope of involvement and creativity on tap.
After settling into the drama of blood drive, the film explores the “ugly” side of Rutland. There are plenty of dilapidated homes and abandoned factories. People, in interviews, explain their difficulty surviving day-to-day with Vermont’s highest unemployment rate. It’s pretty uncomfortable.
Then, locals explain why they remain in Rutland despite its problems. Some cite the intimacy of a small town, while others call it home. Native David Giancola had the most unusual praise for the city. Wherever else they would let his Edgewood Studios film its thriller-disaster films in the middle of town? (Some of Giancola’s very colorful footage spices up this documentary.)
But, then, Jones begins to explore what Rutland is doing about itself. The blood drive gives an idea of the local support on tap. Everyone from city officials to policemen and firemen to laborers and unemployed to the high school hockey team are there to help. But that’s only for one day.
From there, it’s on to the Rutland Creative Economy. Farmers talk about how the city has taken a seasonal farmers’ market and made it year-round in an abandoned movie theater. A group of dirt bike enthusiasts are taking a nearly forgotten Pinewood Park into what is becoming an internationally famous mountain bike track. In the same park, volunteers have created a setting for summer arts events.
These stories aren’t dry and statistical. Rather, they’re told by the individuals, stressed and pushed, who are making these changes. It’s personal and powerful.
Jones’ film, produced by his Great Jones Productions, is fast-paced, well-filmed and largely riveting. Rutlanders have a sense of humor about themselves — and Jones shares this with his audience.
Even those who know the outcome of the blood drive will be on tenterhooks waiting to see if all the hard work and hype will work for this can-do town.