WHAT: Champlain Valley Film Society screenings.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10 — "Islander" with introduction by Thomas Hildreth. $5 adults; $2 under 18.
8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17 — "The General" with introduction and live piano accompaniment by Ben Model.
WHERE: Willsboro Central School.
Find a full schedule at www.cvfilms.org.
WILLSBORO — All of Vinalhaven Island, Maine, turned out for the premiere of "The Islander" there.
"They lined up down the street and packed the house," said Thomas Hildreth, who co-wrote, produced and starred in the film, which the Champlain Valley Film Society will screen this Saturday. "That, for me, was probably the biggest professional explosion of my life, that night, seeing all those people watching the film for the first time and responding to it."
"The Islander" is set on the island, where Maine native Hildreth first visited at age 5, where last year he was married and where he owns a home.
"I felt it would be a very dramatic and compelling place to set a story and shoot a film," he said.
The territory wars between island and mainland fishermen set the stage for the drama — in attempting to drive away a poacher, Eben Cole (Hildreth) fires a warning shot that causes a tragic accident. After five years in prison on a manslaughter plea, Eben returns to Vinalhaven, where he must rebuild his life.
Hildreth and co-writer/director Ian McCrudden shot the film in 25 days, but writing the screenplay took much longer.
"We did the typical things — we researched, got advice from people who work in the profession," Hildreth said. "Ian and I went on a few day trips with lobstermen."
They took great care to reflect the people and lifestyle.
"There were a lot of things on my mind in writing and producing and shooting the film in regard to having a personal connection," Hildreth said. "That's sort of a diplomatic element.
"On the other hand, it was just wanting to be accurate with the subject just as you would with any project."
Hildreth, who will introduce the film at the Film Society event, has an extensive theater background. He played principal roles in films such as "Pawn to a King" and "Here Dies Another Day." And he has appeared on such television series as "24," "Numbers" and several daytime dramas.
"The Islander," which the Boston Herald called "Markedly superior to current Hollywood fare ...
Beautifully cast and well-scripted ..." with "breathtaking" photography, has screened at numerous festivals, including the Williamstown (Mass.), Maine and Martha's Vineyard festivals. It won Best Director at the Sadona International Film Festival.
Hildreth and McCrudden continue pushing "The Islander," accompanying it to screenings around the country. It's a work that gave Hildreth deep satisfaction, from his soup-to-nuts involvement to its setting in a place he loves.
"I wanted to put everything I had into it," he said.
NOT SILENT ABOUT FILM
Coming up Oct. 17, the Film Society in cooperation with Piano by Nature will feature Buster Keaton's 1927 silent film "The General."
"Buster Keaton is a huge favorite," said Ben Model, who will introduce the film and provide live piano accompaniment. "'The General' is probably one of the funniest (silent pictures)."
Model, a film historian and for more than a quarter century the resident silent film accompanist for The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, developed his passion for classic cinema as a child, watching silent movies at the home of drama critic Walter Kerr. His first experience as accompanist was while attending film school at New York University, when in one of his classes they were shown without music.
"I felt like I had to help the films," he said. "I was a big fan of the films, and they were bombing in front of film students."
He continued playing for films at NYU for the next three years.
In Willsboro, he'll improvise for much of "The General," the accompaniment evolving from previous versions he has scored.
"Most of us soloists work that way, composing and improvising," he said.
That reflects how the music complemented the scenes on the silver screen during the Silent Era, when, Model said, accompaniment varied from movie house to movie house.
There were small theaters with just a piano or small orchestra, he said. And larger theaters might have had a full symphony orchestra.
"Because scores were created basically by the local musicians, (music) was always different," he said. "Lists of music to play were sent around but never enforced."
In "The General," Johnny Gray, a train engineer for the Western & Atlanta Railroad during the Civil War, single-handedly tries to foil a Union plot to use his train to wreck Confederate rail lines and cut off supply lines. Composing the music for that film today comes from a different mindset than when it first flickered on in movie houses.
"The music isn't contemporary, but the idea is to meet what is expected from a contemporary audience," Model said.
In the '20s, films were accompanied by stock music, song-title puns, sound effects, he said. Or the same theme might repeat over and over again, something that can come off as corny today.
"What we do here in film scores is a lot more subtle," he said.
Legendary silent-film organist Lee Erwin taught Model not to draw attention to himself as accompanist.
"The best thing to hear after a performance is, 'I forgot you were playing.'
"I would never play "Casey Jones" or "I've Been Working on the Railroad" for "The General" just because there's a train on the screen," he said. "When the lights go off, I'm working for Buster Keaton."
E-mail Suzanne Moore at: firstname.lastname@example.org