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Disappearances - By Rick Kisonak, Seven Days, April 5, 2006
We truly are lucky to have the three movies Jay Craven has made from novels by Howard Frank Mosher. Where the Rivers Flow North, A Stranger in the Kingdom and the latest, Disappearances, comprise a cultural time capsule that transcends film entertainment. They pay tribute to the... click here to read more

'Disappearances' a rollicking Vermont Adventure, Apr 9, 2006
Jay Craven got it right when he called his new film a Vermont western. "Disappearances," based on the Howard Frank Mosher novel, is a wild and rollicking adventure through the wilderness of Vermont and Canada that involves... click here to read more


“Palpable, intimate and magical with the vivid textures of rural outback life, Craven’s delightfully simple narrative operates on powerful metaphorical levels.”
-- Shaz Bennett, Senior Programmer, American Film Institute’s AFI Fest

“Keeps viewers on the edge of their seats…entertaining and emotionally rewarding… a wild and rollicking adventure—with an added touch of mystery”… easily Craven’s best film to date.”
-- Jim Lowe, Times Argus/Rutland Herald.

**** “Shifts into high gear, stomps on the gas, and steers straight for a magical backwoods. Kristofferson’s performance is understated and restrained yet brimming with humor and life…it’s some of the best work he’s ever done.”
-- Rick Kisonak, Seven Days and WPTZ-TV

“Jay Craven’s Disappearances is an extraordinary accomplishment, a Depression-era piece made on a sub-shoestring budget. This Peckinpah-like Eastern Western stars grizzled Kris Kristofferson as a ex-moonshiner on a last quest, an optimist forever. “Just the opposite of me,” Kristofferson said at Austin.”
-- Gerald Peary, Boston Phoenix

“As usual in Craven’s films, there are many strong performances (Kristofferson, Gary Farmer as a jovial uncle, and Genevieve Bujold as superstitious Cordelia) and the kind of richly evocative landscape photography one associates with the work of Carroll Ballard or Terrence Malick.”
-- Scott Foundas, LA Weekly

“A Magic-realist Outlaw Tale of Subtle Rewards” “A frontier spirit and a strong connection to the landscape inform Disappearances, which aims not to wow but to immerse the viewer in a mystical, hardscrabble bygone world. Craven explores matters of character, family and fate with a wise restraint; even the film's passages of magic-realism are subdued. With its dreamy languor and nature-attuned rhythms, Disappearances will not be an easy box office proposition. But the presence of three near-iconic figures of art house cinema -- Kris Kristofferson, Genevieve Bujold and Gary Farmer -- will lure buffs and adventurous filmgoers.”
“The Vermont-based director has a clear feel for the place and its history. Disappearances unfolds in the state's Kingdom County in 1932, centering on Bonhomme patriarch Quebec Bill (Kristofferson), a man of remarkable equanimity and resilience.”

“Eerily beautiful and led by Kristofferson's fascinating Quebec Bill, the cast delivers flavorful but un-showy performances that suit the material. Wolfgang Held's graceful, evocative widescreen camerawork and the Arcadian/Celtic dirge of the score by composers Judy Hyman and Jeff Claus are strong components of the impressively realized low-budget production.”
-- Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

“A frequently mesmerizing stirringly acted frontier tale...pic is clearly concerned with themes of parentage and the blessings and curses fathers bequeath to their sons. Craven's poetic sensibility is steeped in an appreciation of nature, as well as an awareness of man's ability to exist both in harmony and at odds with it, sometimes simultaneously. At the same time, the tale's supernatural contrivances clash with the harsh, unforgiving realism of the world in which the characters find themselves stranded.”
“Performances are uniformly strong. Kristofferson's weathered features and irascible charm couldn't be better tailored to the role of a stubborn yet bracingly optimistic paterfamilias, while McDermott matches his every nuance as the decidedly un-wild Wild Bill. Wolfgang Held's widescreen photography emphasizes the chilly grays and blues of the wooded landscapes, while the flavorful score by Judy Hyman and Jeff Claus (also composers for Rivers and Stranger) adds a crucial element to the film's exquisite sense of place.” -- Justin Chang, Variety
“A really good show. First of all, there’s the stunning cinematography, a benchmark of this independent Vermont filmmaker’s movies to date. But more so, we were taken by the striking, moving, and often disturbing characters which we came to know in the 90-minute tale. Front and center is Kristofferson as Quebec Bill. But we were also impressed by Gary Farmer as Henry Coville and Charlie McDermott as Wild Bill. The film has gripping characterizations, plenty of action—including one heck of a runaway train sequence—and enough mysticism and symbolism to rival Harry Potter. Catch “Disappearances” when it comes over to our side of the river. But don’t expect a traditional ending.”
-- Charles J. Jordan, The Coleborook Chronicle and Lancaster Herald

“Should be seen…a well-acted, beautifully shot independent movie…a whiskey-soaked run for your life.”
-- Ann Wood, Provincetown Banner

“With its undercurrents of ghosts and legends, Disappearances is one of the must-see films at this year’s Nantucket Film Festival.”
-- Festival Programmer Kelly Clement quoted in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror

“Majestic” -- June Pichel Cook, Hardwick Gazette

“Personally, I think this is a wonderful movie. I think it really achieves something special artistically. It creates a mood, texture, music and look in its early frames and it sustains that feeling—the mood is carried through the entire film. There are moments where we don’t if we’re in a dream or our imagination or what realm we’re in—of what’s really happening and what isn’t happening. But that becomes part of the ongoing power of the whole movie. I think that this may be the best thing that Jay’s ever done.”
-- Ken Peck, Reel Independents, Vermont Public Television

“Captures Kristofferson at his most rugged, most dynamic, most vulnerable.”
-- Brent Hallenbeck, Burlington Free Press

*** “Plenty of action to keep you watching.” -- Savannah Morning News

“It’s fantastic, and I have to admit it surprised me. Craven is an insightful, skilled writer and director, with an eye for the camera, a talent for story-telling and dialogue, and a terrific intuition in knowing how to pick exactly the right actors to breathe life into the characters of his production.”
“…a stirring spiritual journey than connects generations of the French Canadian Bonhomme family amid a reckless and dangerous mission with the noble goal of ultimately saving the family farm and its’ starving livestock. The story itself is more complicated than simply one about stealing whiskey, but it is driven less on the intricacies of the plan to get the booze from Quebec to Vermont than it is on the complexities of the remarkable characters. Each is richly acted and adds so much to the canvas of this beautiful landscape. Gary Farmer, as Quebec Bill’s brother-in-law, Henry Coville, is deliciously comic and it is almost impossible to take one’s eyes off the iconic Bujold, who still casts a striking figure years after her film debut.”
“For me, the movie’s real magic is in its’ willingness to let the viewer construe many of the conclusions to be had for themselves, rather than have Craven spoon feed them to the audience. Craven obviously respects his audience and believes that their interpretations of his images are theirs for the interpreting. Miraculously, Craven has created a lush and stunningly beautiful valentine to his own rural Vermont and to a way of life full of extended family, along with its’ traditions, folk-tales, music, and caring. This movie, as Quebec Bill says about his adventure on the road with his son, is “spectacular.” -- Grace Noble, Essex News

Audience Remarks

1) From Dennis O’Brien, President Emeritus, University of Rochester: We just wanted to say that Disappearances was just wonderful. If I had to sum it up in one adjective, I would say "enchanting" in the deep sense of the word. The whole world of Quebec Bill, Cordelia et al. is "enchanted" by ghosts and dreams and aspirations that may or may not be fulfilled. Magical realism is "enchanting" in this sense. If I had to add a noun to enchanting it would be "enchanting epic" or maybe "enchanted epic" is better. The epic quality is very clear. It has the epic line of a Quest, of the Bildlungsroman, of the Western, after the search for the meaning of life in the face of death/disappearances. As an "enchanted epic" it is also a quiet epic — no grand posturing, beating of chest and all that. These are Vermont hills, not the Grand Tetons and that in many ways makes the story more affecting.
The acting by the principals was terrific. I did not think they missed a beat. Of course, everyone thinks Charlie McDermott is great. (I ran into him after the screening and said as much to him.) But, I had NO problems with Kris. He actually fits the whole presentation. In an epic, characters are always "fixed" — the swift footed Achilles. They are fighting on a divine battleground and gods are always just what they are. (Yahweh says to Moses when asked his name: "I am that which I am.") Thus, Kris cuts a straight line through every scene, never wavering from his conviction that this can be done. If he says a frozen fish can come to life, it does. The film is funny, spooky, beautiful to look at and exceedingly well acted. Whatever one may make of a plot with disappearing trains, the characters are continually fascinating.”

2) From Anne Reddington, executive, 20th Century Fox Films:
I really wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the picture - what an amazing job you did. You've once again captured this world, that feels at once timeless and so specific. About 15 minutes into it, I settled into that wonderful movie feeling of "I don't want this to end...” The performances - especially Kris K. and Genevieve - were spot on. And I think most of all, I absolutely loved Gary Farmer. It must have been a tough nut to crack, to transfer such elaborate magical realism with a limited budget and time constraints. But you did it. Congratulations.

3) From Bob Morgan, Broadway Production Designer and Costume Designer (The Full Monty, Imaginary friends, Sherlock’s Last Case, The Loves of Anatol, I’m Not Rappaport). Former Director, Boston University School of Fine Arts:

Congratulations: it's a really unique and beautiful film, and I LOVED it. I love the truth of it, the ease of it, the detail, the truth in detail, and how it unfolds. It is tremendously moving, often in the most unexpected places. For instance, that scene in the tavern made me cry. I've never seen a scene like that done better, ever. And the killings, particularly WB's. So bald and unPC, so offhand and troubling.

The message demands relaxation in the medium for the succession of isolated moments in the plot/narrative so that it is idiosyncratic and charming. That charm is a big element, and it conveys this piece's particular truths in a funny kind of ramshackle way that seems terribly right because it is the Kristofferson character lives and think and behaves. But then K. is wounded, and WB's need to save/rescue him drives the story in a more menacing and tension-filled way, echoing in a less philosophical and more immediate way K's own tale of his life in search of his father. It's no longer merely a picaresque adventure, but more of a personal melodrama. I use the word melodrama not in a pejorative sense, but rather as a description of a literary device or genre.

I thought the following scenes of WB dragging the travois were heartbreaking --just right. And the great scene by the campfire at night. The Carcajou/Cordelia scene was terrific; damn, she's a brilliant actress. She gets the style of the piece totally, less of a shaggy dog than Kristofferson, and a great engine to drive the story with. I understand your wanting to nail the scene a bit more in place with her added line; I completely agree. In a funny way, it's the climax of the movie. It can occupy more space and time somehow, thereby setting up K's inevitable disappearance. I guess his disappearance should feel inevitable, but perhaps only after it has happened. I was surprised by it, weirdly unprepared. Maybe that's as it should be, though.

That kid's face LIVES on camera. He's really a great young film actor. His thoughts read in sequence, they're apparently unplanned and spontaneous and immediate. Gawd, what a find. I wish you great good luck as you tweak this piece into final shape. What a trip!

With great admiration.

4) From Liz Truslow, psychologist.
We had such a great time on Friday night at the gala opening of Disappearances. The movie is terrific - totally engaging and intriguing! The acting by all the cast is so good, and we were touched and enchanted by the characters of big and little Bill. In our view, there was just the right amount of action, humor, and mystery. The cinematography is gorgeous. Aren't we lucky to live in among the mountains, mist and lakes? And you make it all look so good, even in mud season! It is an honor to be at least a small part of the film, and we look forward to hearing about it's release so we can see it again.

5) Richard Stevenson, backhoe operator and contractor.
Now, that’s choice!

6) Stephen Fleury, Dairy Farmer
I saw your film last night at Enosburg and had to write. I am a third generation Vermonter on my father's side; my mother was Canadian with the surname of Davis. I was brought up on a dairy farm and my wife and I are still running the same farm, milking 30 Jerseys. I feel I can give some perspective on your film. Although the hills of Vermont are outwardly very pastoral and full of grandeur, I have always believed them to be full of mystery and secrets—even ghosts. Also, smuggling stories abound here in this region and the woods, swamps, and hills have hidden and still hide those who have something they want to get—or avoid. The story hits close; it is a good tale.

Festivals (to date):
South By Southwest
Nantucket Film Festival
American Film Institute’s AFI Fest
Cleveland International Film Festival
Philadelphia International Film Festival
Savannah Film Festival
Santa Fe Film Festival
Rhode Island International Film Festival
Lake Placid Film Forum (Opening Night Selection)
Northampton International Film Festival (Opening Night Selection—Best Narrative Feature)
Asheville (N.C.) Film Festival
Rural Route Film Festival (Closing Night Selection)
Avignon Film Festival (invited)
Connecticut Film Festival
Maine International Film Festival

Disappearances was selected by the American Film Institute (AFI) as one of 8 U.S. and 11 international films for its first-ever AFI: Project 20/20—to tour Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe during 2007—co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The President’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

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Page last updated: Sunday, December 31, 2006