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After stint in LA, Hartford native returns home to launch film career | CT Insider

Jul 13, 2022

Emily DiSalvo

HARTFORD — When Tina Parziale heard her former student, TJ Noel-Sullivan, was headed to Los Angeles to work in film, she wasn’t sure he’d return to Connecticut.

In high school, he’d started to explore his passion for making films at Real Art Ways in Hartford, where Parziale is the learning and engagement manager. She was excited when she heard about his opportunity to work for Mattel Films in Los Angeles on the set of the Barbie movie.

“When I talked to him, when he told me his position I was really proud of him,” Parziale said. “And I'm like, ‘That's amazing. Congratulations.’ And I was like, ‘OK, so are you going to try to stay out there?’ I asked him right from the get-go.”

TJ Noel-Sullivan is a lifelong Hartford resident who decided to launch his career in film in his home city. Here, he scouts out film locations in State Street Square in Hartford.

For Noel-Sullivan though, there was no question that going to Los Angeles was just a stepping stone — back to Hartford.

“That was a really cool opportunity for me to get some LA industry experience and get a better idea — I wanted to still make this film in Hartford, but I want it to have life beyond just Hartford have an audience beyond just Hartford,” Noel-Sullivan said.

Noel-Sullivan went to Hartford Public Schools, and after graduating from Classical Magnet School, he went to Yale as a Hartford Promise Scholar.

“The first college visit for everyone was in sixth grade,” Noel-Sullivan said. “Classical took the entire grade on a field trip down to Yale. So that was the first college ever visited really. So it was kind of a full-circle moment that seven years later to still be at Classical and get accepted.”

His mentors at Real Art Ways during high school were instrumental in his decision to pursue film at Yale. While Real Art Ways helped develop his love for film, it also fostered his other passion — giving back to Hartford.

“Three years later, I got to come back and feel a similar role of being a teaching assistant in that program,” Noel-Sullivan said. “I talked to high schoolers from the Hartford area that were interested in film and gave them advice on how to go about studying film after they graduated high school.”

Richard Sugarman, president of Hartford Promise, remembers Noel-Sullivan as a member of the first class of Promise scholars in 2016.

“TJ is a person with a bright light about him,” Sugarman said. “He’s the first Promise scholar to go to Yale ... he could do anything anywhere and he said, ‘I want to be a filmmaker in Hartford and make films in Hartford or about Hartford or using Hartford.’ That has been clear to him throughout. And now he’s graduated doing exactly that.”

On Monday, Noel-Sullivan and a Hartford-based team will begin filming, “Midas,” a feature film that he wrote to “showcase Hartford.” The plot involves a college dropout who lies his way into a job at an insurance company. Along with his friends, he devises a scheme to steal money from the company.

The crew is local to the area, many residents of Hartford or neighboring towns. Noel-Sullivan and his crew have been scouting out locations in Hartford for filming. A fifth floor vacant office in State House Square will be the insurance headquarters.

“Once people kind of hear more about the film they've been really excited that this is a film that shooting in Hartford and actually set in Hartford and showcasing Hartford,” Noel-Sullivan said.

For casting, Noel-Sullivan has reached out to the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in hopes of bringing local students into the fold.

Parziale hopes there’s a chance that Noel-Sullivan’s efforts could make Hartford more of a film hub — even if it’s not quite Los Angeles.

“I think it's just about everybody finding each other,” Parziale said. “And knowing that there are crew members here, there are people and facilities and rental spaces here. It's just a matter of them all finding each other and hooking up.”

Like “Midas,” Noel-Sullivan believes his own story will start and end in Hartford.

“I feel a connection and a sense of loyalty to Hartford,” Noel-Sullivan said. “It has given so much to me. I think I'm very much a product of Hartford. Especially because of the last year in LA, I have kind of been conscious of Hartford is a place that I want to be long term.”

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