Green Bay Film Captures Eras Thru Woodcarver

By Warren Gerds

4 stars
(out of 4)

From the director

“We’re going to enter the film in as many film festivals as we can.”

“I’m glad that it’s done. It was a long 3 1/2 years.”

“The best part was the collaboration. There’s so much talent (film and music) in this area that you can tap into it.” — Jim Rivett

A woodcarver seems an unlikely launching point for a compelling documentary film made in Green Bay, but the filmmakers pulled it off in “Westbound: A Documentary Film.”

The title refers to the hobo years of Adolph Vandertie, a lovably crusty sort who lived a tough life around here, fell into alcoholism, climbed out and gained some fame through what likely was his therapy – whittling fantastic pieces of art.

The film is from Arketype, a Green Bay advertising, design and multimedia firm. Jim Rivett, Arketype’s president, is executive producer and director. He teamed in writing the film with producer Shelly Young.

“Westbound” is partly a primer on folk art. Experts in the film include two from Sheboygan’s John Michael Kohler Arts Center, which is displaying some of the 4,000-plus Vandertie pieces it owns through Feb. 2010.

Mostly, “Westbound” is atmospheric. It sweeps through a man’s lifetime of want, wandering, woes and reluctantly accepted worth.

Along the way, the quirky Vandertie tickles the funny bone one moment, then grabs the heart the next.

Music, primarily by artists from this region – and quite flavorful – provides a strong underpinning.

The story is personal. Vandertie weeps over his mother’s intense toil. He regrets a son’s dismissal of the family. He misses his wife, but offers an appreciation with a smile:

“I’m one off the luckiest guys on Earth. I had the same woman for over 70 years, man.”

The story encompasses eras. Through sometimes-harsh light, we see Green Bay of Vandertie’s youth in the ‘20’s and his hobo time early in the Depression. A soup line scene is depressing.

We see images of hobos and steam locomotives, both bygones. Vandertie’s legacy as an oral historian connects us again with them and not necessarily romantically.

“It was nothing but pure hardship,” Vandertie says of his hobo period.

Much of the film is shot in black and white. Close-ups are emphasized, especially of Vandertie’s hands and face. His grin was mostly toothless near the end; he died at age 96 on Dec. 19, 2007.

Scenes accompanying the rolling credits are especially relieving as they feature Vandertie in light moments.

The first viewings were invitation-only events at the Kohler center and Green Bay’s Meyer Theatre. No public showings are announced as yet.

The film has been entered into the Toronto Film Fest, and more applications are planned.