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White River Indie Festival Premieres Films by Local Directors

  • Allison Fay Brown as Chloe, Christian Kohn as Mac and in the back seat Roscoe as Thrasher in a still from the movie "Thrasher Road." (Courtesy photograph)

  • Allison Fay Brown as Chloe and Joe Rogers as Hank in a still from the movie "Thrasher Road." (Courtesy photograph)

  • Christian Kohn as Mac and Roscoe as Thrasher in a still from the movie "Thrasher Road." (Courtesy photograph)

  • Writer/director Samantha Davidson Green, right, speaks with actor Allison Fay Brown during filming of "Thrasher Road" in the Mississippi Delta. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Eliana Brenden plays a Ella, a third-grade girl who takes solace in books and the forest, in "The Ill-Made Knight," a short film by Norwich native Thea Brooks. The film screens at the White River Indie Festival, June 1-3, 2018.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, May 25, 2018

The White River Indie Festival returns next weekend on the theme of “Out of Our Minds.” For several of the Upper Valley and Twin State filmmakers showcasing their work at venues around White River Junction, it also looks and sounds like “Home, Sweet Home.”

Take Hanover native and Plainfield resident Samantha Davidson Green. Almost two years after a coast-to-coast shoot, her first feature, Thrasher Road, opens the festival next Friday night at Northern Stage’s Byrne Theater in White River Junction. It includes several key scenes shot in and around Windsor with a cast that includes former Northern Stage box-office manager Allison Fay Brown (now pursuing a master’s degree in acting in New York City) as the protagonist, and Davidson Green’s fellow Dartmouth lecturer Christian Kohn, a Lyme resident, as the main character’s father.

“We had chances to premiere it elsewhere, but in my heart of hearts, I’ve been desperate to release it here,” Davidson Green said last week. “A lot of my cast and production crew live and work here, and I had a lot of support from people like Perry Allison. I’m eager to celebrate the film here, as a community creation.”

That sentiment goes double for Norwich native Thea Duncan Brooks, who screens her short eco-parable, The Ill-Made Knight, on Sunday afternoon at the Main Street Museum, during the festival’s Freedom & Unity segment. For a week in June 2016, a crew that included Brooks’ Hanover High classmate Matt Celia as director, Hartland-based filmmaker Jake Haehnel as a cameraman and Norwich-based producer Amanda Montenegro as an all-purpose wrangler, shuttled among locations ranging from residential Hanover, Norwich and Barre, Vt., to the woods around Lake Fairlee.

“I would have gone to the festival as a fan two years ago, if it hadn’t coincided with our shoot,” Brooks, a New York City-based actress, recalled last week. “Amanda wanted me to go at the end of one of the days of filming, but I was just dead. But I’ve heard great things about it, so when the invitation came this year, it was an easy call.”

Davidson Green and Brooks’ films helped tip the selection committee toward the “Out of Our Minds” theme.

“As people watched the movies, they starting noticing a trend that crystallized into: ‘What’s going on in the world is upside down,’ ” festival vice president Nora Jacobson, a Norwich-based director, said last week. “If the things that come out of someone’s mind are turbulent and upside down, they also creatively explore the richness and perspective that comes out of our minds. We found this amazing panoply of films that both look at the disruptions in the world and the disruptions in our personal lives and the disruptions in the culture.”

In Davidson Green’s Thrasher Road, Chloe MacGowan, a pregnant, single woman, is retreating home to her native Vermont from Los Angeles, where her dreams didn’t quite work out. En route, with her aging and incontinent dog Thrasher riding shotgun, Chloe survives a car accident and reluctantly calls on her father, Mac MacGowan, 13 years after he left the family, to accompany her the rest of the way home.

“I started the script a number of years ago, with a core theme of adversity, of baggage from childhood following you into adulthood,” Davidson Green said. “After the staged readings by the Parish Players, the father character grew in complexity. His journey of overcoming the self-blame and the self-destructive habits ends with him finding the courage to show up when he’s needed. At the same time, Chloe, who is about to become a parent, realizes her own responsibility, and that no one is perfect.”

In The Ill-Made Knight, New Jersey-based actress Eliana Brenden plays Ella, a third-grade girl who prefers fantasy books to interacting with her peers. She confronts a woodsman (played by Vermont performance artist Rusty Dewees, aka “The Logger”) who’s preparing to clear-cut the forest where she retreats into her imagination. In the end, Ella reaches an accommodation with her adversary, an outcome that helped Knight win the Audience Favorite Award at the Albany (Calif.) Film Festival last fall.

Brooks learned a few things herself, while following Ella on her journey.

“If I were to do it again, the main thing I would do is trust my instincts — compromise more on the smaller elements and compromise less on the big ones,” she said. “I also figured out that I need to teach myself some editing skills. It kind of got handed around (to multiple editors) before we finally brought it out.”

Toward that latter end, Brooks, a 2003 graduate of Hanover High who received her undergraduate education at Carnegie-Mellon University, is looking at film schools. Brooklyn College’s Fierstein Cinema School has accepted her, and she’s on the wait list at Columbia. Wherever she goes, she expects to continue auditioning for stage, TV and independent film roles between classes and her part-time job with New York City’s Department of Education.

“Her journey so far is part of the reason we’re bringing her for Freedom & Unity,” Jacobson said. “We thought it would be cool to have these aspiring artists hear from a young Vermont filmmaker who’s made a career and a name for herself by charting her own path.”

While Brooks isn’t sure she’s quite ready to be a mentor to aspiring filmmakers so soon in her own career, “I can’t wait to meet them,” she said.

The Rest of the Fest

The White River Indie Festival features several Upper Valley and Vermont and New Hampshire filmmakers, including:

Norwich’s Ben Silberfarb explores disruptions in the natural order with his new short, The Hike, which he screens on June 2 at Northern Stage’s Byrne Theater.

Silberfarb said on Thursday that he shot most of the film "in Sharon, with a day in Norwich and a day on Mount Mansfield." The narrative involves a couple encountering a threatening stranger during a backpacking trip. 

The cast includes White River Junction resident Katie Cawley, Whitcomb High School graduate Kevin Chap and Kohn, who also starred as a disoriented outdoorsman in Fire, Silberfarb’s 2017 allegory that Vermont Public Television aired last fall as part of the network’s “Made Here” series of movies by Vermont and New Hampshire filmmakers.

During the same June 2 session for Vermont filmmakers, Burlington resident Jeremy Lee MacKenzie screens Hidden Blueprints. His 16-minute documentary reveals how, while serving a prison sentence, he created in secret a wooden scrollwork depicting an allegory about a fighting praying mantis. And Jacobson will unveil her own new short, Raghead, a story about Islamophobia that she shot at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

Also on June 2, at Northern Stage’s Schleicher Studio, Peterborough, N.H., artist Amy Jenkins unveils Instructions on Parting, her 95-minute documentary blending her video journals, answering machine messages and time-lapse nature photography.

At the same hour in Northern Stage’s Byrne Theater, Justin Roberts shows his documentary No Greater Love, which explores the experiences of U.S. war veterans trying to adjust to civilian life; panelists for the discussion that follows include festival president Mike Beahan and Hartland resident Michael Heaney, both veterans of Vietnam.

Yet another Vermont native, Brattleboro resident Angela Snow, shows her 80-minute documentary, Mortality of Dreams, in Northern Stage’s Schleicher Rehearsal Studio on June 3, during the Freedom & Unity session. Snow filmed it in a remote part of Peru over 10 years, following an aging doctor’s struggles to build a green, state-of-the-art hospital open to all and run by volunteers. A panel discussion after the screening will include Dartmouth-affiliated physicians Leonard Cubillos and Dean Seibert, and Gerd Gemunden, a Dartmouth professor of film and media studies, German studies and comparative literature.

On Sunday night at Northern Stage, Hanover resident and Cine Salon curator Bruce Posner shows Mona Lisa Smiles (Again and Again), his experiment with three screens running simultaneously with looped, repeating images that include the birth of his daughter.

The festival also will screen, on Sunday, the top picks of short films from the Dartmouth Student Showcase, and from the annual 48-Hour Film Slam contest that the festival co-hosts each year with Community Access Television (CATV). Davidson Green will moderate the question-and-answer session with the Dartmouth students.

On the theme of “Out of Our Minds,” the White River Indie Festival shows films at three White River Junction locations from next Friday afternoon through June 3. Admission is free to Thea Brooks’ presentation ofThe Ill-Made Knight, on June 3. For all-access passes, tickets to individual movies and a festival schedule visit www.wrif.org.

Correction

Norwich resident Ben Silberfarb's new short film, The Hike, about a couple encountering a threatening stranger during a backtracking trip, is "based on an actual event but can be viewed as an allegory, a story and commentary on our current society and current politics," according to the program for the White River Indie Festival. An earlier version of this story inaccurately described the film's premise.