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A cannibal love story

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August 9, 2007

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

MONKTON — A sense of déjà vu may fall upon anyone from the Bristol area who happens to catch the movie “Holocaust Holocaust” when it is released this fall.

Several of the zombies in the B-movie may resemble people who made large orders from local restaurants this summer. The chief of the cannibal tribe featured in the flick might look like a guy who showed up at Holley Hall a few times in the past month.

There’s a simple reason: most of the filming of the movie is taking place in the woods of Monkton. Producer Don Fetcher of Penniless Productions said that his unusual crew has received a warm welcome from people in the area.

The cast and crew of the movie have taken over Holley Hall for meetings, and scriptwriter Sofian Khan said he has taken advantage of wireless Internet access in the Bristol Bakery and Café to do last-minute script work on his laptop.

“We’ve got nothing but great support from the locals,” Fetcher said during a break in the filming last week. Cubber’s, for example, has been keeping the 45 or so people on the cast and crew fed and the restaurant put up with orders for large groups at strange hours. “They’ve been helping us out a lot.”

The local connection for the unusual movie is Monkton native Joe Shafer, an assistant producer on “Holocaust Holocaust” who is also an executive producer for Nine37 Productions, the independent arts’ group based in Bristol.

“I knew a farmer who had some land, so here we are,” said Shafer, who now lives in Brooklyn.

Everyone involved in the production acknowledges that the film is a very small production. The total budget of the movie was $15,000. Fetcher expects to spend a total of a month on filming, most of which is already done. Kahn wrote the script in about a month last spring while he was working on another project.

Penniless Productions began as a group of friends who happened to have a shared love of B movies, and Fetcher said that the idea for something like this had been kicking around for years. Khan met Shafer while Khan was working on a film in Pakistan and things got rolling.

“Holocaust Holocaust” is inspired by a sub-genre of horror movie that began with “Cannibal Holocaust” in 1976, Khan said. A number of movies were made over the following years focusing on zombies, cannibals, and equally gory elements, and Penniless Productions hopes to do an homage to those films.

“We’ve managed to bring all the elements of the holocaust genre (together),” Khan said. “This is the end-all and be-all of the holocaust genre.”

Fetcher described the plot as “a cannibal love story.” It begins with a rags-to-riches tale as a New York couple wins the lottery and goes on a vacation in the South Pacific with their newfound wealth. However, the ideal vacation quickly becomes a nightmare when they are abandoned on an island inhabited by a tribe of cannibals. When the chief’s son breaks the law by protecting the woman, the tribe’s vengeful god unleashes zombies on them as punishment.

And there are sharks somewhere in the movie as well. As Shafer put it, “It’s an instant classic.”

How are the producers shooting a film in the woods of Monkton if it’s set in a tropical jungle? By careful camera work, mostly.

“You’d be surprised, but they do kind of match,” said James Manzo, an actor playing a cannibal.

A pretty elaborate village was built in a small clearing off Piney Woods Road in Monkton. Half a dozen wooden huts, festooned with shipwreck debris and plastic body parts, encircle a fire pit. The surrounding woods are dense enough to stand in for a tropical jungle, and the director relies on camera angles and filming scenes at night to keep details like pine trees from being too obvious.

Filming in Vermont was one way to keep expenses low, especially after spending about a week in the British Virgin Islands to film the scenes on the beach and the boat.

To Fetcher, making money off the production would be nice — “I hope to make billions with this film,” he joked — but the main goal is the fun and the artistic challenge. “It’s not about how much money we make, it’s about having enough to get into the next project.”

“I don’t think films like this can get made without a passionate crew,” Fetcher said.

In some ways, it’s the same for the cast. Bill Weeden, the actor playing the cannibal chief, has worked on low-budget movies for years, and Penniless Productions was glad to draw on his experience.

“I’ve always enjoyed (movies like this),” Weeden said. “They’re trash, but they’re epic trash.”

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