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ADIRONDACK DAILY ENTERPRISE
June 20, 2011 • By OLIVIA PEPE
LAKE PLACID - The annual Lake Placid Film Forum wrapped up its four-day run with a communally felt documentary, "The Blood in this Town," which gives a new meaning to the saying "blood, sweat and tears."
The film, written and directed by Art Jones, is about Rutland, Vt., whose community chose to look at the economic decline in a different light by working together. They boosted their economy in an extraordinary way. Steve Costello, coach for the Gift-of-Life Marathon blood drive, bet the mayor of Rutland, Chris Louras, that if the town could gather 1,000 pints of blood through the Red Cross Blood Drive in one day (Dec. 22, 2010), Costello and Louras would get Mohawk haircuts.
The previous year's goal had been lower than 1,000, and since Rutland had beaten Boston, Louras and Costello had little doubt of meeting the new goal.
Another resident said Rutland "may not have a lot, but we can give what we got."
Of course, there was skepticism.
Jones interviewed several people who had concerns, thinking it would impossible based on the population of the town, 15,000.
There were reasons for doubt. Rutland had the highest unemployment in Vermont and had 30 houses in foreclosure. With few opportunities and a lack of ambition to turn the town, around, it was no wonder residents were apt to move away, especially the young blood.
However, there were still some who believed in the town whose pioneers built Rutland's roots in the 1800s through railroads and manufacturing. A generation of shop owners said they believed in the people and found the service of Rutland exemplary.
Blood was not the only give-back the community made. Sweat was a side note. Michael Smith began his journey to help the economy boom for Rutland 20 years ago. He started his own pioneer adventure by finding run-down trails with his dog and using a pick-axe to clear them out. Thus he created Pine Hill Park, a place for mountain bikers and hikers alike to cake their tires and shoes with dirt along 16 miles of trails. Smith had just finished improving the trails with 250 high school students.
"It's got to be something that engages people," Smith said. "I went to the school board and said, 'What can you give back?'"
At one point in the film, a reporter said she had covered a local government meeting with townspeople to hear their ideas to get Rutland booming again. Many of the suggestions included such things as Adirondack communities would host, such as farmers markets, block parties, bike trails, etc.
Jones' close shots of people show how focused he is on them, and he sucks the audience in as the film becomes a countdown to the goal of the pints of blood made.
Jones said he was thrilled to have his film be selected to play in the Lake Placid Film Forum because he felt, "in a strange way, it unites folks." He said he enjoys doing documentaries because the actors are active and real. It also puts into perspective "other stories that are out there - hundreds of rural and urban towns that have lost jobs over the years and are on the verge of falling off the map."
"People can do whatever they set their minds to. After the film came out, we got 1,400 pints in a day," Costello said. He also said they have a new goal of achieving 1,835 pints in one day that would beat the national record.
Smith said that while revenue is important to bring into a town, he does not believe it is the only thing:
"There are other things rather than revenue. The town looked down on itself, and instead of looking at the negatives, it began to look at the positives. It's a wonderful vehicle; here it's something to celebrate."
Jones said he feels he is going in the right direction by showing the film, but he isn't sure showing the film alone will change anything.
"I hope to spark inspiration in the audience so that they will take part in their community," Jones said.