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The Faking of ''Dadetown''

Hammondsport, NY plays a neat trick on audiences

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Considering their part in the matter, folks in Hammondsport, N.Y., are pretty blase about the slick trick they helped pull in Dadetown, Russ Hexter’s ”documentary” about factory workers colliding with a monolithic techno-corporation. The film is as fictional as Independence Day — Hexter cast several dozen village inhabitants to play people a lot like themselves — a fact that, when revealed as the end credits unspooled, prompted gasps from unsuspecting festival moviegoers.

”Nothing on film is ever going to be pure truth,” says cowriter John Housley. ”We sat down to tell this story, and the conventions of a documentary best allowed that. We want people to suspend disbelief.” In Hammondsport (pop. 929), a gazeboed Finger Lakes burg chosen from a hundred other cities, there’s more debate about the mock doc’s cusswords than its veracity. What started with an open casting call in early 1994 soon turned into a popular public project. Judi Worden, an administrative assistant with amateur theater experience, landed the role of embattled councilwoman Bess Gluckman. Bill Garrison, then 72, got his screen break when he was pegged as council elder Bill Parsons. Garrison was in actuality a town supervisor, handy when ad-libbing to the surprise questions lobbed at Dadetowners as part of Hexter’s strategy for keeping dialogue fresh.

When, just before shooting, a local winery laid off employees, the filmmakers worried their story might hit too close to home. Instead, says producer Jim Carden, Hammondsporters ”made us feel like honorary citizens.” Now there’s talk of a plaque commemorating Hexter, who died last April, six months after Dadetown premiered in the Main Street school auditorium. And in another uncanny instance of life imitating art imitating life, Garrison reports that a new cafe opened with a ”real fancy, sounds-like-Italian name, Cappuccino something.”

Just like in the movie.