University of Vermont

Alumni Win Vermont International Film Festival Award

Watch the alumni-created, award-winning short film 'Toby MacNutt: Body of Work,' featuring music by another alumna, music major Rebecca Kopycinski '05.

Walking down Main Street in Burlington, Elizabeth Rossano '10 was struck by a sign on the door of FlynnSpace: Toby MacNutt, work-in-progress, dance performance. Rossano knew MacNutt as a fiber artist, not a dancer, so that was one level of surprise. "It also blew my mind because this was a dance performance, and I knew Toby was in a wheelchair," she says.

She'd already put MacNutt on film once. For her work at Vermont Community Access Media (VCAM), Rossano had interviewed MacNutt at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire, where her spinning and yarn work stood out among exhibitors with more techie interpretations of what it is to be a "maker." "She was my favorite person we interviewed," Rossano says, "and had been in the back of my mind."

Still, Rossano didn't commit to a new project until talking it over with her friend, VCAM intern and fellow UVM grad Ashley DeLucco '10, herself a dancer who'd attended the Boston Conservatory and worked in New York during a hiatus from completing her undergraduate degree at UVM.

"Ashley said, 'If you're not going to do it, can I?" Rossano remembers, and that was all the encouragement she needed to pursue the new project about this other unexpected creative pursuit of MacNutt's -- and to do so collaboratively with DeLucco. The pair got to work creating their short film Toby MacNutt: Body of Work, sharing the videography responsibilities and DeLucco taking a lead on much of the editing.

"What we were trying to do," Rossano says of the film, "was to replicate how I got to know Toby -- first as a fiber artist then as a dancer." Their objective, DeLucco adds, was to create "a portrait of an artist" first and foremost -- and not to address MacNutt's disability directly.

They worked on the piece from March to July of this year, entered it in the Vermont International Film Festival and won the competition's Goldstone Award this month, given annually to an emerging Vermont filmmaker (or filmmakers).

"It is the longest running award we have given to Vermont filmmakers, and in some ways, the most prestigious," says Anna Blackmer, a member of the board of directors for VTIFF, whose festival has been perennially held since 1985.

The committee chose the film, Blackmer says, "because it is an intimate and moving portrait…both fresh in its conception and technically well done. And Liz and Ashley are both young filmmakers at the beginning of their careers -- we laud the work they've done to tell part of Toby's story for our community."

"We really gelled as a working team," Rossano says of her partnership with DeLucco, who's working part time now as an assistant video editor for Seven Days and freelancing. The pair met as majors in UVM's Film and Television Studies program and got to know each other better when DeLucco took an internship with VCAM, where Rossano works as coordinator of programming. While the UVM program does not feature a production-heavy curriculum, Rossano and DeLucco agree that its emphasis on film theory has helped set them apart as filmmakers.

"Fine, you can hold a camera and edit," DeLucco says, referring to the production side of filmmaking, "but the UVM program's intellectual approach to film makes a more well-rounded filmmaker."

"I think I have a different perspective than filmmakers who just go to production school," Rossano says. "I'm conscientious of what I do -- every choice I make, every editing decision, every cut." And that perspective, they agree, comes from the theory-rich courses they took at UVM.

"It's a real pleasure to watch former students literally blossom when they leave our program," says Deb Ellis, documentary filmmaker and associate professor. "I am happy that we have developed relationships that help our students find opportunities when they leave UVM, and I'm particularly happy when they find ways to grow locally."

"I think it's exciting to be here right now," Rossano says. "Burlington has always been an artsy town, but now it's becoming more of a techie town, too." As evidence, she mentions the city's new partnership with US Ignite, identifying Burlington as a next-generation technology site. That's an appealing intersection of strengths for a filmmaker, Rossano says.

"I don't know the origin of this, but my friends and I have always called Burlington 'BurlingTron: City of the Future,'" she says, also pleased to be growing locally and to have been recognized at her hometown film festival. "Things are getting started here."