Capturing complexity

For the Love of Rutland premiered worldwide at North America’s largest documentary film festival, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, held virtually in May 2020. Named one of the 10 most exciting films screened at the festival by IndieWire magazine, the documentary continues to screen at film festivals and will have its national broadcast premiere on public television in 2021. Credit: Lani Rodriguez, BackTalk Videografica (public domain).

When Associate Professor Jennifer Maytorena Taylor began shooting a new project in early 2016, she didn’t realize how much her study of the small town of Rutland, Vermont—where she lived for a time when young—would mirror America’s social and political turmoil. Centered around a mayor’s decision to settle Syrian refugees in the town and how its 15,000 citizens responded, the resulting film, For the Love of Rutland, explores the persistent problems of poverty and addiction and the increasingly divisive issues of cultural identity and nationalism.

Her goal for the documentary, Taylor said, was to avoid portraying Rutland as simply a rural town in decline, to show it as “the complex entity it is, capturing as much nuance and contradiction as possible.” The film follows Stacie Griffin, a lifelong Rutland resident whose life has been marked by poverty and substance abuse. Initially wary of the refugees resettling in her low-income neighborhood, Griffin ultimately finds purpose in civic engagement, advocating for change and community building that includes Rutland’s newest inhabitants.

Stacie Griffin, a lifelong resident of the town of Rutland, Vermont, is the main protagonist in Jennifer Maytorena Taylor’s documentary, For the Love of Rutland. In the film, Griffin grapples with the town’s decision to settle Syrian refugees in her low-income neighborhood. Taylor, who grew up in Rutland and Los Angeles, is an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Social Documentation M.F.A. Program. Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Maytorena Taylor.

Taylor teaches her students the same ethical practices and principles that have guided her more than two decades of work as an award-winning filmmaker of feature and short documentary films. “Our job is to be honest,” she said. “I come in with a ‘do no harm’ commitment and an assumption that everybody deserves dignity.”

—Amanda Heidt