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FILM KITCHEN PREVIEW

BRIGHT LIGHTS, TINY TOWN

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FILM KITCHEN
Monkey Forest Tourist (2002), by T. Foley
Breezewood, Pennsylvania (2002), by Jason Hutt
8 p.m. Tue., March 11. Melwood Screening Room, Oakland. $4.
7 p.m. reception. Artist Q&A. 412-316-3342, x178.


Everybody's been there, or at least driven past. But aside from the occasional newspaper article about Thanksgiving traffic jams, who stops to think about Breezewood, the self-proclaimed "Town of Motels" at the epic junction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 70?

Jason Hutt remembers speeding past Breezewood's neon during his teen and pre-teen years, when his parents were driving him to soccer tournaments in New York and Ohio. To the young native of Potomac, Md., all the backlit brilliance suggested the temptations of Las Vegas. But Breezewood was more than a drive-through obsession. In some sense, it was what inspired Hutt to make movies.

The summer before college, he was passing Breezewood coming home from a tourney in Niagara Falls when he considered writing a screenplay about the truckers and other intriguing people he imagined populated such a crossroads.

It was a script Hutt never wrote. But several years later, he feels he's made something more worthwhile: Breezewood, Pennsylvania, a feature-length documentary portrait of the little town with the major signage. The movie screens at the next Film Kitchen, on Tue., March 11, along with Teresa Foley's short video Monkey Forest Tourist, a first-hand look at an Indonesian tourist trap where simians and humans interact.

Hutt studied economics at Harvard, but during his college years his interest in moving images only grew. One summer he interned in Hollywood with TV and film producer-director Mike Tollin. Artistically, a big turning point was watching a 30-year-old documentary: Titicut Follies, a 1967 look inside a Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane, so scathing that it was effectively banned for decades. Titicut Follies, by the brilliant documentarian Frederick Wiseman, rejected voiceover narration and talking-head interviews in favor of observing life and unadorned depictions of interactions between people, a style known as cinema verité. "Seeing that one film just blew me away," says Hutt. "If you were trying to capture something profound about people and cultures, this was the absolute best way to do it."

After graduating, Hutt worked as Tollin's assistant on projects including the feature film Summer Catch, but eventually decided to make movies on his own. So for six weeks in the summer of 2001 he returned to Breezewood. Armed with a digital video camera and working mostly alone, he hung out with truckers and waitresses, motel housekeepers and hitchhikers, a local farmer, and the closest thing Breezewood has to a central figure: Chaplain Bruce Maxwell of the Trucker & Traveler Ministry.

Breezewood, Pennsylvania has screened at several festivals, including the Georgetown Independent Film Festival, where it won Best Cinema Verité. But Hutt is especially pleased about the two Feb. 8 screenings at the Breezewood Fire Hall. Roughly 400 people came -- twice the town's official population -- and they seemed to appreciate the honest portrayal.

The movie is a far cry from characterizations of Breezewood found in newspaper stories about clogged highways. "These editors are sending the reporters out because they already know what the story is," says Hutt. In cinema verité, by contrast, there's no script. You shoot as much as you can -- about 50 hours of footage in Hutt's case -- and discover the film in the editing room. "The footage," he says, "is going to tell you what's really going on in the town."

City Paper is a co-sponsor of Film Kitchen.

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