A Filmmaking Student’s Guide to Burlington, Vermont

Dillon Toole ’20 // Filmmaking takes a stroll through the Burlington film scene.

The oft told legends of New York and Los Angeles as the cultural and economic centers of film still hold water, but the decentralization of the industry over the last decade has allowed film communities to form and flourish across the country. Burlington may lack a Hollywood sign and rows of enormous hangar-like sound stages, but these largely superficial differences do little to discourage a city whose film spirit is not only alive, but thriving.

Champlain College has a myriad of resources and opportunities available so you can jump behind a camera or in front of a screen immediately upon arriving your first year.

Champlain’s own Production Equipment Rental House, staffed by experienced Filmmaking and Broadcast Media students, has cameras, lenses, lighting, and countless other tools-of-the-trade filmmakers of all levels can rent. Want to check out a point-and-shoot camera for the weekend to snap some pictures with friends? Or maybe produce a professional short film with a crew of fellow students? Stop by the Rental House, grab some tea, and talk shop with the techs who will help you decide exactly what you need to make it happen.

Champlain students can rent out the Production Stage, equipped with a green screen.

The Rental House has you covered during Burlington’s infamous winters as well. Ask a tech about renting out Champlain’s production stage, located in the CCM Building. It’s a huge space with black walls and a black floor, perfect for when the weather outside won’t cooperate. The lighting grid on the ceiling, a closet full of grip supplies, and a floor-to-ceiling green screen make the production stage a great resource for filmmakers who need a quiet and controlled environment.

Champlain also recently acquired new studio space for film majors within Generator Makerspace, located just off the shuttle stop at Champlain’s Lakeside Campus. The Flex Space is a 3,000 square-foot warehouse that opened a whole new realm of possibilities for students in the Division of Communication and Creative Media. The large space allows students to build entire sets, with room to spare. 

The Burlington area has an impressive and diverse selection of cinemas and movie theaters. Right down the hill from main campus is a fan favorite: Merrill’s Roxy Cinema. “The Roxy,” as students call it, is a small theater with a great offering of films. From the latest superhero flick to indie darlings and foreign cinema, the Roxy has you covered. In South Burlington, right off Green Mountain Transit’s Blue Line, is Palace 9, a splendid multiplex with a healthy list of blockbusters and studio pictures. For a truly majestic cinema experience, take a trek out to Essex Cinemas’ “T-Rex Theater,” the largest (and loudest) screen in Vermont.  

Dillon Toole ’20 // Filmmaking enjoys taking advantage of the Roxy’s student deal: Catch a $5 film any Tuesday morning from 10—11 AM.

Movie theaters showcase the latest in film, sometimes making it easy to forget titles from 100+ years of film history. This is where Main Street Landing comes in, an independent exhibition space at the bottom of Main Street in Burlington that aims to keep history alive. Graciously showing a smorgasbord of classic films every month (Sullivan’s Travels, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rear Window, and beyond), Main Street Landing changes its offerings every month, so you’re bound to catch a good title. The best part? It’s free. You’d best bring a couple bucks to donate, though. Good movies (and the people who exhibit them) are worth supporting.

The crown jewel of Burlington’s film scene is the annual Vermont International Film Festival or “VTIFF.” VTIFF, held this year from October 16 to 27, is a town-wide celebration of local and international filmmaking. Film professors acquire a limited number of free season passes for students each year, so act fast, because they’ll go quickly. Advance screenings, Q&A sessions with filmmakers, and so much more await you at what has to be one of New England’s best film festivals.  

Burlington is full of wonderful hidden spots and there are few better ways to familiarize yourself with them than volunteering on any of the dozens of student film shoots happening around Burlington and Vermont each year. Filmmaking students are always looking for an extra set of hands to help on set. So join a crew for the weekend, learn about our city, and get invaluable hands-on experience while you’re at it. 

Champlain College professors encourage hands-on, experiential learning. Photo by Ryan Bent ’08 // Ryan Bent Photography.

As far as film culture goes, this list only scratches the surface of what’s waiting for you in and around Burlington. From local filmmakers you’ll meet, to places you’ll discover along the way, there’s no better way to get to know the city than to step outside and explore it for yourself.

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