University of Vermont

'Hunger Games' Producer and UVM Alum Jon Kilik to Host Benefit Screening and Discussion

No doubt the most enthusiastic Hunger Games fans, or Panemaniacs, will flock to local theaters at midnight, the evening of March 22, ready to see the Vermont premiere of the year's most anticipated film -- an adaption of the bestselling novel by Suzanne Collins.

But perhaps for the ultimate fan, our local, not-to-be-missed screening will happen a few days later when UVM alumnus and producer of the film Jon Kilik will be on hand at Williston's Majestic 10 to answer questions from the audience, a sort of post-movie, live "DVD extras" experience.

One could imagine it's a nerve-wracking experience for the producer, facing fans who care deeply about the story's transformation from page to screen. "There's over 20 million readers out there who loved the book so much," says Kilik. "It's a huge responsibility to satisfy that kind of expectation."

But the producer has good reason to feel confident, bolstered by successful premieres he attended last week in Europe and the overwhelmingly positive reviews published in the last few days. The Washington Post wrote March 20, "With 33 critical assessments published since the review embargo broke early this morning, Rotten Tomatoes currently shows that the film has a 97 percent fresh rating -- only one negative review so far."

The story, published as young adult fiction, may seem like a departure for Kilik, whose past credits include Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Dead Man Walking, Babel, Biutiful, and others, films that have earned twenty-seven Oscar nominations. But make no mistake about The Hunger Games' subject matter; it's tough. Collins, who also co-wrote the screenplay, tells the story of a dystopian future where every year, two children from each district of the country Panem are chosen to fight to the death in a televised battle. Only one can survive.

For Kilik, choosing a project means finding a connection to the work. "A movie might be something you'd want to spend two hours watching, but to spend two years making it is real commitment, and you've got to be interested 18 hours a day, seven days a week," he says.

This is not the first time Kilik's brought his work back to Burlington, a place he considers a second home. He's made a habit of screening his films for the community, and most importantly to him, connecting with students at his alma mater.

"It's incredibly generous of Jon to make time for UVM and the Film and Television Studies program on the film's opening weekend," says program director David Jenemann. "He has always been an amazing resource to our students interested in pursuing careers in the motion picture industry, and he is a great link to the history of FTS while encouraging its future."

Kilik credits visits from filmmakers to his classes for sparking an interest in the profession. "If I could be that to one student, that's a big deal to me," he says.

To that end, Kilik will visit classes March 26 and participate in a discussion that evening on campus about The Hunger Games and any other topics of interest to the audience. "It's an opportunity to get people in the room to talk about this film, to talk about films -- mine or anybody else's -- so hopefully we can fill up the Davis Center Monday night and have a great conversation."

Both events, the benefit screening Sunday, March 25 at 4 p.m. and the discussion in the Davis Center's Grand Maple Ballroom on March 26 at 6:30 p.m., will feature Q&A sessions led by Kilik's former professor, Frank Manchel, UVM film professor emeritus.

"He was a great inspiration and a tough critic always," Kilik says of Manchel. "He's just as tough on me in my work, but he's always honest, and it comes from a place of great knowledge and experience."

Perhaps the audience's questions will be easier to face than a former professor's. "I can't imagine there's anyone who's seen more films, studied more films and understands film history better than Frank," Kilik says. "So yeah, that's enough to make anyone nervous."

Tickets for the screening, $20, are available from Proceeds benefit Film and Television Studies.

Note: The 4 p.m. screening tickets are selling quickly. Tickets for a second, 5 p.m. screening and Q&A will be available soon.