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Film Notes: Norwich Moviemakers Screen Their Work

  • Thea Brooks the writer of "Green " and director Matt Celia look over a scene being shot at Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt., on June 7, 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Trevor Pendleton adjusts lighting for a scene from "Green" when shooting at Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt., on June 7, 2016. In the front is actor Kirsten Scott playing a teacher in the movie. Seated at desks are Rosemary Candon, of Norwich, and Kyle Hines, of Plainfield, N.H., both are third-graders. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/15/2017 12:05:05 AM
Modified: 9/15/2017 12:05:16 AM

Two Norwich filmmakers at different stages of their careers are preparing to share their recent passion projects with family, friends, neighbors and movie buffs in the Upper Valley over the next two weeks.

On Sept. 23 at the Nugget Theaters in Hanover, New York-based actress and Norwich native Thea Brooks unveils The Ill-Made Knight, her debut as a screenwriter and producer.

And on Sept. 28 at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre, veteran director-screenwriter and longtime Norwich resident Nora Jacobson will offer the Upper Valley another look at The Hanji Box, her cinematic exploration of the perils and rewards of international adoption. She previously showed the movie, built around an essay by Claremont author Margaret (Meg) Daiss Hurley, during the White River Indie Festival in White River Junction last spring.

Originally titled Green when Brooks and a small crew shot the 15-minute short in and around Norwich in June 2016, The Ill-Made Knight follows the journey of an introspective girl who learns unexpected lessons while trying to prevent the leveling of a neighboring forest where she used to let her imagination run wild.

“This is basically the premiere,” Brooks said this week from New York City, where she works for the city Department of Education between stage, TV and film roles. “We’re still waiting to hear from about a dozen different film festivals, and in the meantime we wanted to share it with all the folks who helped us locally to shoot it. We’ve sent out 182 invitations so far, but anybody from the community is welcome. Just show up.”

In addition to Eliana Brenden, the 10-year-old New Jersey girl who stars as the forest-guardian protagonist, Ella, the movie co-stars Vermont actor-performance artist Rusty “The Logger” Dewees as, well, the logger whom Ella confronts while he tries to clear the forest in question.

“I was hoping to get some nuance out of his performance, because of the dynamic between him and Eliana’s character, both of whom have trouble communicating with other people,” Brooks said. “I was looking for that natural awkward quality that did play really nicely on camera. Rusty brought a lot of cool quirks to the character.”

Brooks based the movie on a childhood experience of her own, and co-wrote it with Katherine Celia, whose husband, Knight director Matt Celia, graduated from Hanover High School with Brooks. About two-thirds of the way through the editing of the movie, Matt Celia advised Brooks to change the title from Green to The Ill-Made Knight, the third book in author T.H. White’s epic novel The Once and Future King, that is a favorite of Ella’s.

“Matt said at one point about the original title, ‘This name does encapsulate everything this film stands for,’” Brooks recalled. “And I finally agreed with him. He’s the one who actually went to film school.”

After Hanover High School, Brooks attended Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, aiming to follow her high school passion of acting in theater. While she watched a number of movies as a teenager, Brooks didn’t start viewing them with an actor’s eye until preparing for stage adaptations of movies, among them Dirty Dancing, and of television series, most notably I Love Lucy, in which she played Lucille Ball.

“Essentially I was being taken back to film through theater,” Brooks said. “I learned a lot.”

The education continued through a run of TV roles and independent short films, including 2017’s Laps, in which Brooks stars as a woman who endures a sexual assault on a crowded subway; the movie won an award for editing during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Earlier this year, Brooks credited the shoot of Laps with preparing her to write and produce The Ill-Made Knight.

“I always thought that indie film was, quite frankly, not very good film,” Brooks said. “Now I know better, and I know that it’s also not easy. Coming out of this project, if I have any advice to offer friends just starting out at a similar stage themselves to make films, it’s, ‘Don’t jump in the deep end.’ I had this crazy, extravagant idea to use a skidder and an animal (Norwich-resident golden retriever Abby) and children, all the things you’re not supposed to do on your first film. … It was crazy for me to do something so high-scale.”

By “high-scale,” Brooks means expenses so far totaling about $16,000, between cash donations, in-kind donations of equipment and other supplies and pushing her credit cards perilously close to their limits.

“I count all that toward my film education,” Brooks said. “That’s still less expensive than going to film school at NYU.”

The Nugget Theaters in Hanover will screen The Ill-Made Knightat noon on Saturday, Sept. 23. Screenwriter-producer Thea Brooks and several cast members, including Vermont actor-performance artist Rusty “The Logger” Dewees, will talk about the film when the lights come back up. Admission is free. To learn more, visit theillmadeknight.com.

‘The Hanji Box’

While working on other projects, Nora Jacobson is again taking The Hanji Box on tour, with the aim of drawing attention to the complications of adopting children from overseas.

“We’re really trying to connect with the whole adoption movement,” Jacobson said this week, during a telephone conversation from California, where she is editing another film. “After we showed it at a theater in New Jersey, people from that community came up to us and said they thought it would be a good conversation-starter in the adoption ‘constellation.’ It’s such a complicated field, involving the adoptive parents, the birth family the adoptees. There are the infertility issues, and now the whole immigration debate is complicating things further. … It’s an incredibly rich area to explore.”

Jacobson has found the topic rich enough to start working on a sequel about Rose, the adopted young woman, returning to her native Korea with her adopted mother.

“With everything that’s going on right now with North Korea, it’s all the more timely. I’m excited about showing it again.”

Nora Jacobson will present The Hanji Boxat the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. During the post-screening discussion, speakers will include Margaret (Meg) Daiss Hurley, author of the essay that inspired the movie, and an expert on adoption. To order tickets ($7 to $9) and learn more, visit pentanglearts.org or call 802-457-3981.

Running Time

The Hopkins Center will screen Tracktown, Dartmouth College graduate Alexi Pappas’ semiautobiographical feature about a young woman distance runner struggling to qualify for the Olympics, next Friday night at 7 at Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover. Pappas, a 2012 alumna, stars in, co-wrote and co-directed the movie with Jeremy Teicher, a 2010 graduate whom she met in a film class.

The screening is part of a reunion weekend for Dartmouth track athletes who competed in the Olympics or the world championships over the past 65 years, but the public is welcome. For tickets ($5 to $8) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Coming Attractions

The Cine Salon series resumes at Hanover’s Howe Library on Sept. 25 at 7, with Dartmouth film professor Jeffrey Ruoff introducing excerpts from movies by French multi-media artist Chris Marker. On Monday nights over the ensuing 2½ months, Cine Salon founder Bruce Posner will show more Marker films, many of them starring Marker’s longtime avatar Guillaume-en-Egypt, an animated cat. To learn more, visit howelibrary.org.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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