Student films focus lens on local subjects

by Kaitlin Bell | 8/22/03 5:00am

It wasn't your usual assortment of familiar Hollywood names, indie-movie insiders or even obscure foreign actors that flashed across the screen in Loew Auditorium Wednesday evening.

Instead, the subjects of the student documentaries hailed from just across the Connecticut River in White River Junction, Vt. -- and ran the gamut from the curator of a small memorabilia museum to volunteers from a local community service organization.

The four short documentaries, made by small groups of students for Professor Jeffrey Ruoff's documentary film-making class, were as notable for the circumstances surrounding their filming, though, as they were for their subjects. Under the direction of Ruoff and the twelve students in his Film Studies 30 class, the films were shot within the span of one day in early July by seven professional videographers brought in thanks to a grant from the Summer Arts Initiative.

The small-town focus is a yearly fixture of the films Ruoff assigns for his documentary film-making class. The goal, Ruoff said, is promoting real-life experiences beyond the confines of the College. This year, he chose White River Junction -- a former booming railroad town-- as the place where his students would interact with local residents in a variety of settings.

Ruoff himself brainstormed a handful of topics for the documentaries, and the four that received the most votes from students got picked to film, class teaching assistant Daniella Hirschfeld '03 said. Some students were disappointed that they could not formulate their own subject ideas, but the grant Ruoff received likely placed constraints on the allowable subject matter, she said.

"They had this really cool opportunity to work with professional videographers and in that context he had to pre-select subjects," she said, noting that the finished films were surprisingly polished, and that the turnout in Loew Wednesday was higher than last year's.

"I was really impressed with the documentaries-they all kind of came from where they didn't know what they were doing to making really funny, good films."

Among the quirkier of the films was one profiling the curator of the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, which exhibits an eccentric array of objects ranging from a fake sea-monster constructed out of wax to ordinary tag-sale "junk."

A second film followed the Hartford Police as they distributed parking violations to illegally parked cars and chased drug traffickers on interstates. The other two films followed members of a car-enthusiasts club -- aptly dubbed Expensive Habitz for the money members shell out to equip their cars with upscale extras -- and volunteers for a community-service organization that provides free home repair to local homeowners in need.