RISING FROM RECESSION

Posted by admin on September 25, 2011

THE ALTOONA MIRROR

By Beth Ann Downey • September 14, 2011

WILLIAMSBURG, PA - Filmmaker Art Jones said there are many different towns where his latest documentary could've been set.

Though  "The Blood in This Town" chronicles the small town struggles of Rutland, Vt., in its fight against the recession, Jones said the same feats of a community bonded by the goal of keeping their town afloat can be found in places like Akron, Ohio, Pensacola, Fla., or even the local town of Williamsburg.
To test his theory, Jones will visit Williamsburg for a screening of the feature-length film and to participate in a panel discussion on community building.

 Rutland, a former quarry town filled with abandoned manufacturing facilities and empty store fronts, can serve as a model for towns across America looking to pull themselves "out of the bad spot" the recession has left them, Jones said. "There was a larger picture of a town trying to re-envision a new path forward for the future and create a new, sustainable future," Jones said of both Rutland and the grassroots organizations and leaders who helped the town's economy get back on its feet without waiting for the stimulation of a new factory or corporation. "But looking at Rutland, other towns can take stock in their own potential and ability to remake themselves."

Discussing potential is exactly what Carlee Ranalli, president of the Williamsburg Borough Council, hopes to do with residents throughout the event. She heard about  "The Blood in This Town" after reading a newspaper article and immediately ordered a copy of the movie and got in touch with Jones. "I thought, 'Wow, wouldn't it be great if we could learn something from them,'" Ranalli said.

Ranalli said Williamsburg has experienced similar effects of the recession to Rutland, as well as similar grassroots efforts from groups working to counteract them. She hopes people come to the panel discussion with the problems that still need solving in order to brainstorm ideas that will address them. "I want to see if there's anything we can learn through this to help us work together better," she said.

Ranalli does not wish to recreate Rutland's exact initiatives — including the one-day blood drive that raised more than 1,000 pints of blood, and fostered the documentary's

title. Rather, she hopes the inspiration from the movie and the results of the panel will grow into economy-boosting initiatives that use Williamsburg's own resources. "If we can do some of these things that help our people and businesses and attract new people to the community, everyone wins," she said.

From what he learned in Rutland, Jones has no doubt that this would be possible. "If you look around, every town has something special," he said. "Every town has something to rally around."

Working on this documentary also gave Jones something to rally around. Now that it has been released, he wants to work more on turning the inspiration from Rutland into nationwide action. This includes taking the film to Capitol Hill in order to show policy makers they shouldn't only be directing their efforts to help city dwellers.

"It's time for those folks in power to remember they came from small towns," he said. "They're what America is built on, and it's time to redirect the resources." In the meantime, Jones also plans to continue telling the "vital stories" that shed a spotlight on the places and people sometimes neglected by mainstream media.

"It became very clear with the deep recession that film making had the power to tell the story that wasn't being told," Jones said.

If You Go:

What: Screening of "The Blood in This Town" and panel discussion with writer, producer and director Art Jones.
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williamsburg Community Farm Show Building, 1019 Recreation Drive, Williamsburg
Details: The event is free and open to the public. Sponsorship was provided by Martin General Stores and The Crossroad youth group.


‘The Blood in this Town’ wraps up Forum

Posted by admin on July 20, 2011

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.


Vermont Town's Blood Drive, Film Draw Notice

Posted by admin on June 26, 2011

HUFFINGTON POST • FORBES • NEW YORK TIMES  via AP 

By JOHN CURRAN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: June 26, 2011

RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) — When documentary filmmaker Art Jones and his five-man crew set out from New York to shoot footage of a blood drive in a small Vermont city, he did it to satisfy an old friend, one of the organizers. Jones figured it might make a nice four-minute film.

What he found in hardscrabble Rutland was something more: A hard-luck city whose annual Gift-of-Life Marathon was but one of the homegrown initiatives being spearheaded by energetic volunteers and creative community members determined to turn things around.

The 80-minute documentary he ended up making — "The Blood in This Town" — is now getting notice from community leaders and rural development groups who hope to replicate Rutland's self-reliance instead of waiting for Washington or corporate America to deliver them from hard times.

 "The movie does a good job of exploring some themes that I think are very common in rural areas: How to deal with a changing economy, how to develop your own leadership, how to do something sustainable and truly based on the assets of the community, as opposed to trying to find your salvation in some outside company you're going to bring in," said Tim Marema, vice president of the Center for Rural Strategies, in Knoxville, Tenn. "It's about building from within."

Like many small American towns and cities, Rutland — a former quarry, manufacturing and railroad center now home to about 16,630 people — is way past its prime.

Long-dormant manufacturing facilities with broken windows, deteriorating old homes and empty storefronts have combined to create an urban landscape in sharp contrast to Vermont's picturesque village squares. It is, as a local hospital executive says in the movie, recalling a magazine article's description: "the only ugly town in Vermont."

On Dec. 22, 2009, Jones and his crew camped out at the Paramount Theatre, an 850-seat Victorian opera house whose stage, seats and lobbies swarm for one day a year with volunteers, nurses, American Red Cross phlebotomists and donors laid out on cots, with red tubes snaking out of their arms into plastic bags.

Organizers had set what some considered an unattainable goal — 1,000 pints of blood. A white eraser board kept a running tally as the hours ticked down. By the time the Paramount's doors shut, 1,024 pints had been collecting, breaking a New England record for a one-day drive that had been set by Boston, a city of 645,000.

The cameras caught it all — and more.

"Throughout that day, I heard more stories about other things going on in town," said Jones, whose stock-in-trade is normally corporate films. "The idea was if this town could do this in one day, come together that way and rediscover its ability to accomplish things, what else could it do in the other 364 days of the year?" he said.

He found out, taking cameras to Pine Hill Park, a former wino haven on the outskirts of town that was turned into a mountain biking haven; to the Rutland Farmers Market, which took up residence in an unheated building and became a roaring year-round success; to Friday Night Live, a volunteer-run celebration of downtown that blocks off Center Street five or six nights a year in summer; creation of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, which is helping connect farms with new markets, including individual customers who buy shares in farms and get weekly food deliveries.

 "It really took Art Jones, an outsider, to come in and say to the community at large "You've got something special here" for a lot of people to understand that," said Randal Smathers, editor of the Rutland Herald newspaper. "It's made people proud to say "I'm from Rutland," when before it was like "Oh, I'm from Vermont."

Not that all is rosy now.

"Sure, we still have our problems," said blood drive organizer Steve Costello, who lured Jones to Rutland. "They're not being solved overnight. But the blood drive and a lot of these other things the film touches on are giving people here a self-esteem that wasn't here before, and a sense that they can solve these problems if they stick to it."

 While the film hasn't had a theatrical release — Jones hopes it gets picked up by PBS, or some film festivals — its reputation has spread, partly with the help of an outreach program run by his production company, Great Jones Productions Inc.

 It has played in more than a dozen Vermont screenings, usually accompanied by a panel discussion on community building. In September, it will be subject of a screening and forum at the Pratt Institute's sustainable planning department. Also in the works: A screening at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center entitled "Rutland Revival & Grassroots Revitalization of Small Post-Industrial Cities."

 "From a planning perspective, the issues that Rutland is dealing with are occurring all over the country," said William Calabrese, a planner and recent graduate of Pratt, who's organizing that event. "What the film gets at is showing the strong sense of community. Rutland's a unique case. But there are similar cases. There's a lot to be learned from Rutland."

And from "The Blood in This Town."

 "The message is to come together around the good things and the assets that do exist in your community," Jones said. "It is so easy to criticize and sit back and say no to every new initiative. It's a much harder thing to get creative."