Short Film Leads Norwich Native to Sundance

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    Norwich native Thea Brooks, right, prepares with two New York University students to shoot a scene for "Laps," a short film in which Brooks played the lead role. "Laps" has been selected for the Sundance Film Festival. Norwich native Thea Brooks, right, prepares with two New York University students to shoot a scene for Laps, a short film in which Brooks played the lead role.

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    Thea Brooks, a 2003 graduate of Hanover High School, appears in a scene from "Laps," a short film that has been chose for the Sundance Film Festival later this month. Courtesy photographs

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2017 10:00:05 PM
Modified: 1/5/2017 10:00:11 PM

For a movie that runs six minutes, Laps is boosting Norwich native Thea Brooks’ long-term artistic ambitions.

First, playing the survivor of a sexual assault on a New York subway gave Brooks, a 2003 graduate of Hanover High School, an unexpected chance to stretch her thespian muscles.

“I knew what I was getting into when I read the script,” Brooks said during a telephone interview from New York last week. “I identified with it. Even though I haven’t experienced something this extreme, I identified with it. There are still men out there who treat you like an object, who sort of talk over you in the room.

“It was exciting to have an opportunity to do something timely like this.”

Second, the Sundance Institute has selected Laps for its 2017 film festival in Utah later this month. Brooks plans to make her first trip to Sundance.

Filmed in a three-day shoot in New York last May, Laps helped inspire Brooks for her next project: Green, the 12-minute film that she co-wrote with the wife of a Hanover High classmate and shot in June.

“I was asking Greg Oke, who was our director of photography on Laps, if he knew anybody who does sound who I could bring into our project,” Brooks said. “Greg was like, ‘Well, I do sound.’ I asked right away, ‘Can you take a train to Vermont next week?’ ”

Oke could and did, and helped Brooks bring to life her story, built around an incident from her childhood, about a dreamy, square-peg girl trying to prevent the clear-cutting of her haven, a grove of nearby woods to which she retreats physically and imaginatively. The film, in which Vermont actor/performance artist Rusty DeWees plays a nuanced version of his persona The Logger, is in post-production. Brooks plans to submit it to film festivals this summer and fall.

While playing the lead character in Laps, Brooks also was watching how director Charlotte Wells and producer Joy Jorgensen managed the set.

“The shooting was very painless,” Brooks recalled. “We were always doing something. There was no sitting around. … Charly has her own writing process, which I was able to speak with her about, and Joy had a clear command of the logistics.”

While making travel plans for Sundance between her day-job duties as a consultant with the New York City Department of Education, Brooks, now in her early 30s, figures that the Laps experience also reminded her to resist over-planning and over-thinking, in filmmaking and in life.

“Charly was coming off another movie that took 15 days with a giant crew in Scotland, and it didn’t get into Sundance,” Brooks said. “Then we do this little makeshift, under-the-radar, skeleton-crew film, and it gets in. … The basic lesson I kept learning this year is to allow opportunities to come to me a little bit more.

“When I relax and let the universe work its magic, these things sometimes come.”

The list of short films entered in this year’s Sundance Film Festival is viewable at To learn more about Green, visit

Coming Attractions

More than a year after their screenings at Dartmouth, the modern Icelandic fable Rams and Davis Guggenheim’s transcendent documentary He Named Me Malala are coming to the Woodstock Vermont Film Series at Billings Farm over the next two weekends. Both offer rewards, whether you missed them first time around or want to revisit the worlds they reveal.

Rams, in subtitles, explores the relationship between two elderly brothers who live next door to each other but have not spoken in decades because of a rivalry over their prize-winning sheep.

He Named Me Malala traces how, with the unwavering support of her father, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai recovered from an assassination attempt by the Taliban to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy of education for girls.

To learn more about these features and about rest of the film festival, which runs through March, visit The Billings Farm and Museum advises calling 802-457-2355 to reserve tickets ($6 for museum members, $11 for others) for all screenings, which start at 3 and 5 in the afternoon.

The Hopkins Center this weekend is offering another chance to see two movies for which I’m crossing my fingers that Academy Award voters will remember come nomination time. Showing on Saturday night at 7 at Loew Auditorium is Queen of Katwe, based on the true story of a girl from a Ugandan slum who becomes a champion chess player. Aside from the inspiring story, it gives Lupita Nyong’o, winner of the best-supporting-actress Oscar for her turn in 12 Years A Slave, another chance to shine, as the hard-working mother of the chess player.

While A Man Called Ove, my front-runner for the best-foreign-film Oscar, is fictional, it carries the ring of real life as it follows a Swedish widower’s arc from grumpy old man — whose causes for his disposition appear in flashbacks — to redeemed grandfather-figure. The Hop is screening the movie at Loew Auditorium at 4 on Saturday afternoon.

For tickets ($5 to $8) for each film, visit or call 603-727-3304.

Life, Animated, the documentary about a young man emerging from the profound autism that silenced him in childhood through his empathy for characters in animated Disney movies, will make its television premiere on Saturday night at 8 on the A&E cable network. The movie is adapted from Ron Suskind’s memoir about his son Owen’s journey, and includes scenes shot at the family’s seasonal home on Lake Morey.

If the trophy houses around tonier parts of the Upper Valley or along Lake Champlain appall you or just fill you with despair, check out the Jan. 14 screening of the documentary One Big Home at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction on Jan. 14.

White River Indie Films is bringing builder-turned-director Thomas Bena to town to screen and discuss his exploration of — and his own role in enabling — the proliferation of palatial McMansions all along the shoreline of the tiny Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard. The story includes the run-up to passage of a bylaw limiting the size of new houses in Chilmark, one of the Vineyard’s six towns. In addition to working as a builder, Bena founded the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in 2001. Admission to the screening is free. To learn more about the movie, visit

The Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock will screen Woodstock filmmaker Anne Macksoud’s documentary Life Stories: Aging and the Human Spirit, on Jan. 27 at 3:30 p.m. Working with John Ankele, Macksoud visited the twice-a-month sessions at which a group of older residents of Galveston, Texas recounted their lives through poems and stories. The screening is part of the library’s Aging with Grace film series, in collaboration with Woodstock’s North Universalist Chapel and Thompson Senior Center.

The Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph will screen Oscar-winning director Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi on Jan. 15, in the Chandler’s Upper Gallery. Admission is $9 to the movie, which starts at 6:30 p.m.

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.

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