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Geoffrey Fletcher was a 14-year-old kid living in Waterford when he got the gift that changed everything: a video camera.
"From the moment I got it, I just used it endlessly," he said. "I made movies in the backyard with the neighborhood kids, but they always had to go home and eat."
So he used G.I. Joe figures when those kids weren't around. His oldest brother eventually showed him how to create stop-motion films, so it looked as if those G.I. Joes were actually moving.
"That was life-changing," Fletcher said.
His fascination with movies only grew. In college, whenever professors would let him, Fletcher would hand in a film instead of a paper, even though a film was more work.
What he wanted, simply, was to be a writer-director.
And now? Fletcher has won the biggest award in moviedom - the Oscar - for best adapted screenplay for "Precious" in 2010.
And he is achieving a long-held dream to be the writer-director on his own feature film.
"Violet & Daisy" is set to be released in June, and on Thursday, Fletcher hosted a preview screening at Connecticut College. It's one of several such "Violet & Daisy" college previews, with one set for tonight at Columbia University and another one later this spring at Rhode Island School of Design.
Connecticut College's Evans Hall was jammed with an enthusiastic combination of Fletcher friends and family, college students and community members.
"Violet & Daisy" centers on two teenage female assassins (Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan) who are deeply affected when they meet their latest target (James Gandolfini). The movie is a genre-bending concoction, fusing elements of thrillers and fables, coming-of-age tales and quirky comedies.
After the screening, Fletcher answered questions from the crowd.
When someone asked what his personal connection was in making "Violet & Daisy," Fletcher joked, "You mean after I retired from being a teenage hit-girl?"
"What's cool about storytelling in movies is you don't have to be literal. ... Stories can be allegories, and you can use metaphors," he said.
This film, he said, touches on relationships, materialism, friendship and innocence. He said he's particularly interested in when innocence collides with the grim reality the world can offer.
Fletcher thought that exploring these subjects through teenage hit-girls might be particularly interesting, since, he noted, "now, just about everything in the boy universe has been done."
The idea for "Violet & Daisy" came to him before he worked on "Precious." He wrote the first draft before "Precious" hit theaters.
He shot "Violet & Daisy" for over a month and a half in New York City, particularly in Harlem.
"It's the old New York that I love so much. ... It retains its pre-war charm," he said.
When someone asked if he was influenced by Quentin Tarantino, since the early part of "Violet & Daisy" boasts some Tarantino-esque elements, Fletcher said he has been influenced by a variety of filmmakers, from Tarantino to Jean-Luc Godard to Federico Fellini to Woody Allen.
Thursday's screening served as a homecoming for Fletcher, with former classmates and sports teammates turning out to support him.
Mike Susi of Waterford was 8 when he met Fletcher, and they played baseball together in Little League and Babe Ruth. He remembered the G.I. Joe movies Fletcher mentioned as well as his enduring passion for filmmaking.
"We knew at an early age he was going to be something special," Susi said.
Jeremy Delaporta, who grew up in New London, met Fletcher in 1995 when Fletcher was working on his thesis film at Harkness Memorial State Park.
Delaporta acted in a number of Fletcher's independent films after that.
"He taught me a lot. He got me interested in foreign films. ... He was like my teacher," Delaporta said.