Art Notes: Upper Valley filmmaker’s debut premiering at WRIF festival

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

A still from Loren David Howard's film

A still from Loren David Howard's film "Custodian," premiering on Thursday night, Feb. 15, 2024, at the annual White River Indie Films festival in White River Junction, Vt. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-14-2024 9:01 PM

Modified: 02-16-2024 10:25 AM


Loren David Howard started making movies the way a lot of teens do, by recording concerts his dad took him to and making videos of friends out skateboarding.

He didn’t expect to make much out of it, but after a school counselor advised him to think about going to college, Howard — a Claremont native — went to Keene (N.H.) State College and opted to study film.

“I didn’t want music to feel like a job,” he said of his first love. Howard is the singer-songwriter and guitarist for the prolific Claremont band Chodus and plays in multiple other bands.

So far, his decision is working out. He busted his tail in college, emerging with a range of experiences and a complete screenplay about a janitor who cleans up a recording studio at night and uses the opportunity to record his own music.

That film, “Custodian,” premieres Thursday night at the annual White River Indie Films festival, better known as WRIF. “Custodian” won the festival’s Pitchfest last year, which conferred $1,000 in funding that Howard used to make his first feature. This year’s Pitchfest starts at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Briggs Opera House, just before the 8 p.m. screening of “Custodian.” (I haven’t watched “Custodian, but the trailer is warm, heartfelt and a bit bonkers.)

The festival continues through Sunday and features a wide range of programming, from workshops with filmmakers and actors, screenings both of films made in Vermont and New Hampshire and of films that have received global accolades and social events, including a Saturday night “Vampire Dance Party.”

As exciting as WRIF might be, the best part of the festival is the encouragement it offers to up-and-coming filmmakers such as Howard. A grand doesn’t get you too far in the filmmaking business, unless you’re making a film the way Howard did it, with borrowed locations and friends working for nothing as the cast and crew.

“They gave me 800 bucks,” Howard said of the money he got for winning the Pitchfest. “I basically used that for food and gas.” He’d reach out to someone for help and offer to pay for their gas to the shooting location and to buy them lunch.

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He got the remaining $200 on Tuesday, he said, and plans to use it to enter “Custodian” in a few more festivals, including the Made Here Film Festival in Burlington, the Monadnock International Film Festival in Keene and the New Hampshire Film Festival in Portsmouth.

At 24, Howard credits financial security for allowing him to make “Custodian.” He’s a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild and works as an apprentice editor at Florentine Films, the Walpole, N.H., studio best known for the work of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

What Howard has that most every filmmaker needs is the desire to get out and make movies. “I think part of it is that I really wanted this,” he said in a phone interview this week.

But “Custodian” is a community effort, he noted. He plans to keep making films in the Upper Valley.

Among the arts, filmmaking seems the most under-represented in the Upper Valley. While painters, writers, actors, musicians and cartoonists are too numerous to list, I can count the filmmakers that come to mind on the fingers of my two hands. A partial list includes Nora Jacobson, John O’Brien, Matt Bucy, Tara Wray, Josh Melrod, Jodie Mack, Samantha Davidson Green, Signe Taylor, Liz Canner, Anne Macksoud and Deborah Scranton. And not all of them are full-time filmmakers.

I’m sorry if I’m leaving anyone out; I’m a writer, not an accountant. I know there are other people involved in filmmaking, from Chico Eastridge (who has a role in “Custodian”) to Stefan Van Norden to local YouTuber Quincy McBride. My point, which is that there aren’t a lot of Upper Valley filmmakers relative to other artists, still stands.

Neither of the Twin States does much to attract or support filmmaking, so it has to run on DIY energy. That works well when you’re in your early 20s but can be hard to sustain for filmmakers raising families.

JAM (Junction Arts & Media), which joined forces with WRIF in the past few years, has made itself into a crucial resource. For people who want to make films, “your first stop is to go to your public access station,” Howard said.

In addition to producing this week’s film festival, JAM also recently released a three-year strategic plan. It intends to make itself a more sustainable organization, foster the Upper Valley’s media arts community and improve the area’s quality of life through its programming.

Whatever support is available, Howard advises young filmmakers to just get out there. Start with an iPhone and a free editing program and make a movie. You never know where it might take you.

WRIF runs through Sunday night, with programs at JAM and in the Briggs Opera House, both in White River Junction. For tickets and more information, go to uvjam.org.

More music at MSM

Also in White River Junction, in case you can’t get enough of Loren David Howard, one of the bands he’s in, Phrogs, plays Saturday night at the Main Street Museum on a bill with the ska/punk legends McAsh and Gagger, a New Hampshire band that bills itself as “working class punks.”

This is an all-ages show, starting at 7 p.m. Admission is $10, though no one is ever turned away from the museum for lack of funds.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.