Monday, March 03, 2008

Indictment vote puts town in spotlight

By BOB AUDETTE, Reformer Staff

Monday, March 3
-- Lights, cameras, opinions.

A documentary film crew is in town to talk with people and observe the process leading up to Tuesday's vote.

What brought them to Brattleboro is the town's attitude that it is a voice of reason in a country torn apart by an ill-advised war and an out-of-control presidential administration.

That voice of reason comes in the form of last year's impeachment resolution and this year's indictment resolution, one of which was passed by town meeting representatives and the other finding its place on the town warrant for Tuesday's vote. Both actions were made possible through the efforts of town residents and the willingness of the Selectboard to give voters the opportunity to let the world know exactly how they feel.

"Our intent was to capture a bit of a town that is aggressively pursuing its own voice and to demonstrate that democracy can be accessible to those who show the initiative," said producer Kip Konwiser, who, with his brother Kern, is responsible for films such as "On Hallowed Ground: Streetball Champions of Rucker Park," "Shanghai Kiss," "Crossover" and "Underground Poets Railroad."

The idea for the documentary, with a working title of "Mad As Hell," evolved from a book being written by Vincent Bugliosi, a former deputy district attorney from Los Angeles and the man who prosecuted Charles Manson.

Bugliosi is the author of "Helter Skelter," "Reclaiming History" and "Outrage."

"His (new) book looks at the question of criminal activity by the president," said director David J. Burke, who has worked on TV shows such as "Law and Order," "SeaQuest DSV" and "Wiseguy."

The crew will be spending the next few days leading up to Tuesday talking to people on the street, both those in favor of and opposed to putting the indictment on the ballot.

The crew spent time Friday night talking with staffers at the Reformer about their observations on the character of Brattleboro, the mindset of Vermonters and the New England tradition of self-reliance and outspoken opinions. The filmmakers will also be spending time with Selectboard member Rich Garant, indictment author Kurt Daims, impeachment advocate Dan DeWalt and WKVT's Steve West.

They will also travel to Burlington, where they plan to meet with Iraq war veteran Matt Howard.

Brattleboro speaks to many people around the country who are intimidated by the political process or don't have the opportunity to address impeachment or indictment of the president on a local level.

"There are many of these voices peppered throughout most every town in America," said Konwiser. "Some may be intimidated to speak out. Maybe what they need to see is one town that can give them the confidence to do what in their private moments they are probably rehearsing over and over in their own heads."

As part of the filming behind the "Mad As Hell" documentary, Burke spent time with Bugliosi, who he called "a fascinating character," and with civil liberties attorney Alan Dershowitz.

Speaking with Bugliosi, Burke and the Konwisers decided it might be interesting to find "regular folk" who might be in their own way doing the same thing the former prosecutor was doing -- laying out a case of the many crimes committed by the current presidential administration.

Using the Internet, the director and producers learned about the Brattleboro indictment and "the more we dug into it the more interesting we found it," said Burke.

"This is not a scripted drama. The story keeps changing on us. We find Brattleboro changed it a lot because Bugliosi is making very much the same case (against the president) in a much grander way."

The indictment resolution to be voted on Tuesday is indicative of Vermont's self-reliant character and its tradition of residents taking the responsibility of citizenship, said Burke

"There is something very compelling about that," he said. "For me, it's much more compelling than a guy like Bugliosi, who knows how the system works, making the case."

Burke said the actions of Brattleboro residents to propose the impeachment and indictment resolutions impressed him because of the lack of will in Washington, D.C., to address what many in the country think are the criminal activities of the president.

"It irritated me that the first thing (speaker of the house) Nancy Pelosi did was take impeachment off the table," he said. "Particularly after Nixon and Clinton, this seems like a reason for impeachment that is deeper than oral sex or breaking into the Democratic headquarters and covering it up."

The film crew, which is here until Wednesday morning, is enjoying its stay in town, even though it was colder than they expected.

Though there is a sense of community in Brattleboro that doesn't exist in Los Angeles, it's not all that different from the City of Angels, said Kern Konwiser.

"Most people in L.A. aren't from L.A.," he said, and they form their own little expatriate communities of people from the same area of the country they come from.

His brother agreed, saying the difference between expectations and reality in Los Angeles forces people to create "small towns" in the big city. Still, he said, there is something you can get in Brattleboro that you can't find in a big city.

"Here, it is very much of a small environment," said Kip Konwiser. "Walking down the street, people know each other."

Bob Audette can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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