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Filmmaker Nora Jacobson Wins Vermont’s Top Arts Prize

  • Filmmaker Nora Jacobson at her home studio in Norwich, Vt., on June 22, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Filmmaker Nora Jacobson in her home studio in Norwich, Vt., on June 22, 2016. Jacobson was awarded the 2016 Herb Lockwood Prize in the Arts, Vermont's largest statewide art prize. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Norwich filmmaker Nora Jacobson checks out the crowd at the Norwich Town Meeting on March 3, 2008. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/23/2016 10:00:18 PM
Modified: 6/24/2016 7:35:41 PM

Working with filmmaker Nora Jacobson to whittle down her script for a feature film to a short film length was a collaborative process, according to Hanover actress Suzanne Dudley-Schon.

It took months of back and forth to condense the script for The Hanji Box, a fictional work about a mother’s search for the origins of a work of art belonging to her adopted Korean daughter, said Dudley-Schon. In addition to working on the script, Dudley-Schon is co-producing and acting in the film.

The creative exchange between Jacobson, the film’s writer, producer, director and editor, and Dudley-Schon didn’t stop there.

Even during filming, “It felt very co-creative rather than her just being a director telling you what to do,” Dudley-Schon said.

“She listens on many different levels,” hearing both what a collaborator says and reading his or her body language to hear the unspoken, Dudley-Schon said. “As a filmmaker she’s incredibly generous.”

It is fitting then that this week, Jacobson, a Norwich filmmaker, was recognized for her work with the state’s largest monetary award for a single artist.

Upon hearing she was to receive the $10,000 Herb Lockwood Prize — an annual award given by Burlington City Arts with private donor support — Jacobson said she was “astonished and very happy.”

Because there are so many talented artists in Vermont, Jacobson said she was torn between being honored to receive the prize and worrying that other artists might not have the opportunity to get such a sizable award.

In part, it is this type of concern for other artists that set her apart in the eyes of the judges.

The Herb Lockwood Prize, now in its third year, is named for a Burlington man who brought people together through the arts before dying in a workplace accident in 1987. He was 27.

Todd Lockwood, Herb Lockwood’s brother and the prize’s founder, said artists do not compete for the award. In fact, they don’t even know they’ve been nominated for it.

Approximately 20 art advisors around the state submit names, and then an anonymous panel of five makes the final decision.

The 2015 winner was fine artist and typographer Claire Van Vliet, of Newark, Vt., and the 2014 winner was actor and theater director Steve Small, from Middlebury, Vt. So far, all of the recipients are mid- to late-career artists.

Todd Lockwood said in a telephone interview that his brother, a multi-talented artist, moved to Vermont at the age of 22. During his five years in the state he helped to inspire other artists; so many that they filled the church for his memorial service.

“He had a real focus about his place in the world and his connection to the community,” Lockwood said.

Through her work, Jacobson has also helped to bring together fellow artists. One of her most collaborative efforts was the 2014 film series, Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie, which was made through the combined efforts of dozens of filmmakers. The six-part, nine-hour film documents Vermont history and culture.

Lockwood, who moved to Vermont in 1977, said the film helped to capture “the essence of Vermont’s singularity and explain the allure” that drew him to the state.

Overwhelmed by the enormity of telling such a large story at first, it “made perfect sense to have other people work on it,” Jacobson said.

While she doesn’t think art can be created by consensus, she does think it can be shaped by creative suggestions from others, she said.

Hearing that Jacobson had won the prize came as no surprise to Thetford filmmaker Kate Cone, a frequent Jacobson collaborator.

Like Dudley-Schon, Cone said Jacobson is open to others’ suggestions. Cone said she admires her fellow filmmaker’s consideration of others and her drive to see a project to completion.

“At this level of local filmmaking, (Jacobson) certainly stands above and sets an example of great filmmaking, good storytelling and an ability to encourage creativity with people around her,” Cone said.

Though Jacobson is often juggling several projects, she somehow manages to keep track of them all.

“She is the most conscientious person I have ever worked with,” Cone said, noting that she always returns phone calls and keeps track of deadlines. “It’s really impressive and it makes a huge impression on people,” Cone said.

Jacobson, who grew up in Norwich and France, encourages others by hosting salon-type gatherings at her Norwich home and sharing equipment, Cone said. In addition, Jacobson founded the Freedom & Unity TV Youth Film Competition, sits on the Vermont PBS Community Council and belongs to a group working to create an archival database of Vermont films. She sits on the board of the White River Indie Festival.

In addition to the Vermont movie, Jacobson’s work includes the documentary Delivered Vacant and the features: My Mother’s Early Lovers and Nothing Like Dreaming.

The award money will help Jacobson pursue ongoing projects.

Though she has earned a Guggenheim Fellowship and a variety of other grants and awards, Jacobson said she has struggled recently to find support for a documentary about Ruth Stone. Stone was a Goshen, Vt., poet and National Book Award winner who died in 2011.

In addition to the Ruth Stone project and The Hanji Box, Jacobson is also working on a film about pond hockey and a TV series about people of color in Vermont and elsewhere in New England from 1785 to 1885.

While she enjoys working with others on film projects, the young filmmaker contest, the indie festival and the archival film project, she also enjoys the solo work of being immersed in editing.

In her home office on Wednesday, using three computer monitors, she carefully tweaked the color saturation of scenes from The Hanji Box. She is preparing for a screening at the Maine International Film Festival next month.

In some ways, she said she would like nothing better than to go away for two months to dive into her ongoing projects. Her commitments to collaborative efforts, however, keep her in place.

“I have to do my jobs,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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