Latham out to ensure long life for Latchis

Latchis Arts' vice president joined the board in 2015

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BRATTLEBORO — Jennifer Latham is vice-president of the non-profit Latchis Arts board. This slim 46-year-old dynamo is a doer and that's exactly why people like Vermont filmmakers Jay Craven and Nora Jacobsen hired her for their production teams when she was in her mid-20s. That's why CBS commentator Bill Moyers hired her for three years to help produce "NOW," a weekly public affairs show aired on PBS. That's why director Michael Moore hired her as a line producer for his films "Sicko" (nominated for an academy award in 2007) followed by his film "Capitalism: A Love Story."

Yet for all this work, all this behind-the-scenes drama of her professional life, she is a very local woman. While she was born in Anchorage, Alaska in 1971, the daughter of Alison and John Latham, at age 5, she and her brother Jamie, age 8, and their mother moved to Westminster West — a village of around 800 people 15 miles north of Brattleboro. John Latham, her father, remained in the coastal village of Yakutat where he still lives, working as a master guide for hunting and fishing enthusiasts and running a lodge for his clients.

Latham's mother Alison is another doer. She was an artist, taught art, is a professional bookkeeper and worked for Green Mountain Press. When her son Jamie died in a tragic accident in 1991, she started the Pinnacle Hill Association in his memory. Their goal was to save and provide permanent access to hikers to the scenic Pinnacle Hill on the ridge that runs north-south between Grafton and Putney. Over the last 20 years, she and her neighbors have seen that initial tiny acreage blossom into just shy of 1,930 acres — 33 parcels in five towns — of preserved ridge line interlaced with 24.4 miles of walking trails.

During those years, Jennifer Latham attended Bev Major's kindergarten in Westminster, then to Claire Oglesby and Mary Hayward's Westminster West two-room school house for grades 1 through 4. She attended Bellows Fall Middle School, graduated from the Bellows Falls Union High School and went on to the University of Vermont.

She studied English, spent a semester in Denmark studying the language while learning about pottery, music, weaving. She graduated from UVM in 1993 and then, "In the fine tradition of college graduates, I took a job as a waitress in Burlington. I stuck with that for three years, and then everything changed for me when I took a class at Vermont Community College in Burlington in the documentary film. "I studied film theory, history and technique. We watched the films of Frederick Wiseman, Robert Flaherty, Errol Morris ." She was hooked.

She volunteered to help a Vermont director, David Giancola, based in Rutland, with his film "Diamond Run." During the summer of 1996, Nora Jacobson, a Norwich based documentary filmmaker — best known for her series on the history of Vermont for PBS, hired Latham as a location manager. That same summer, she got a job with Jay Craven in Chelsea, who was at work on his "Stranger in the Kingdom." "That summer showed me film was my future."

When that work was finished, she moved to Brattleboro, worked for Spero Latchis in his Grille Restaurant and got a job working as a location scout for "Cider House Rules," part of which was being filmed at Scott Farm on Kipling Road in Dummerston. But work was not consistent enough in Vermont so she moved to Fort Green in Brooklyn working bit jobs in "nuts-and-bolts production jobs.

In 1999, she took a job with two directors, finishing up their film about the dragging death of James Byrd Jr, in Texas in 1998. "Two Towns of Jasper" would screen at Sundance and go on to win numerous awards. It is still one of POVs highest rated programs. It would be the foundation of her career in documentaries.

When Bill Moyers needed help with his weekly public affairs show "NOW" during the Iraq War and George W. Bush's presidency, he hired her: "We did 50 shows a year for three years. Working for Moyers taught me how to think on my feet. We'd have everything ready for filming an hour show and the day before we were to start, Moyers would often rewrite the entire show. I sure learned to anticipate. That's how they roll."

In 2006 documentary filmmaker Michael Moore called. He needed a line producer for his film "Sicko." "This was upper management: create and manage budgets; manage staff and their schedules; work with the banks, keep the studios happy with our production costs. We even went to Cuba to shoot. The film was nominated for an academy award and we all went to LA." Latham went on to work for Moore on his next film "Capitalism: A Love Story."

Latham then got a job on a much smaller crew helping produce "Stuck," a film about intercountry adoption. "I found myself working with the same editor I had worked with for with Bill Moyers." She then moved on to be the supervising producer on nine one-hour documentaries in a series on climate change for prime-time screening on the Showtime Channel. The series earned an Emmy.

Latham moved back to Vermont around 2012 yet continued working part-time in film production while at the same time with the Brattleboro Film Festivals in 2014 and 2015.

In January, 2015 she joined the Latchis Arts Board.

"I joined because Latchis Arts brings so many rich layers of experience and opportunities to the community that we normally would not have. The first meeting I attended was devoted to long-range strategic planning. We looked at the community and what its interests are and now, we try to ensure that we have programming that the community wants to see, both on the screens at the Latchis as well as on the main stage. After all, I've been coming to The Latchis since I was seven.

"I recently read a book on how important places are in the lives of people. They provide stability and reassurance, especially in this fleeting digital age when things come and go on line. The Latchis and its programming is here to stay. And I want to ensure that. The Latchis is coming up on its 80th anniversary, and we intend to celebrate with lots of special events, and lots of popcorn," she said.


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