Vt. film at center of $28M Ponzi scheme finally makes local debut
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Vermont film more than a decade in the making has finally made it to the big screen, and it had more than its share of controversy on the way to its local debut.
‘The Birth of Innocence” was created by Vermont storyteller Mac Parker, who along with silent business partner Louis Soteriou, was convicted in 2013 for embezzling $28 million from investors in the film. Some of that money went back to pay off early investors and some went into both men’s pockets. Although they went to federal prison, that didn’t stop the investors and producers from trying to get the movie to the big screen.
“I’ve worked for free for a decade to do this,” said Horace Williams, who wasn’t always the movie’s producer. He started out producing music in the ‘60s and kept it up for a number of years. That’s how he met parker in 2004, who hired him for a job. At the time, Williams says “The Birth of Innocence” was already in the works. “He called me one night and said, ‘I want you to re-edit the entire film. I want you to redo the entire film with me from scratch and I don’t want you to see the rough cut that I have,’” Williams recalled.
He agreed and worked on the film until it went belly up around 2010 when Parker and Soteriou came under investigation for operating a Ponzi scheme with funds raised for the movie.
But Williams says he kept going. “Because I had the tools, the hard drives, the IP, enough IP to protect it. I felt I had a moral duty to do this,” he said.
Williams says he wanted to use that intellectual property and finish the film for a number of reasons. The first was to not throw away his creative efforts. But he also says he wanted to try and do right by investors who forked over the cash for the film. Investors like Jerry Rule from Addison County.
“When I found out what was going on, I basically wanted to go out into the woods and bury my head in the sand,” Rule said. He says at the time he had just sold his waste and recycling business and was looking to make an investment to keep his cash growing during the 2008 recession. He invested about $400,000, money he says he needed to take care of his kids.
Rule says he has felt pretty hopeless about it, but when he heard the film was finally showing in theaters, that changed. “Horace has not given up and I’m so proud of him for that. I mean, I still don’t know what’s going to happen, still may not ever get anything, but at least it’s not over,” Rule said.
Williams describes the film as singular, challenging, and valuable to audience members. He says it’s not a narrative but that it will connect the audience to their core. “It provides an invitation and a reminder that your life is miraculous, but on your own terms and in your own way,” he said.
Since the film was completed in 2017, Williams has had it shown at various film festivals, racking up 11 awards over the years while trying to get it distributed in theaters. “And that gave me sort of better tools to approach theaters because a Vermont theatrical run would be the next logical step, it would be a cool step to do. You know?”
“The Birth of Innocence” will be showing in seven theaters across Vermont beginning Friday night at the Playhouse Theatre in Randolph. It will run at other theaters including The Savoy in Montpelier, The Essex Cinemas in Essex Jct., MHCA Dover Cinema & Arts in West Dover, Springfield Cinemas 3 in Springfield, and the Keene Cinema through October 14.
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