Imagine That! 

Wheelwrite Imaginarium brings a bit of literary bohemia to Manchester


Standing next to a well-stocked shelf in the Wheelwrite Imaginarium, Tim Rhys holds a cherished book in his hands with a glint of grateful joy in his eyes. The walls are lined with vintage film, music, and sports posters, which are nicely complemented by a movie theater-style popcorn machine in the back of the shop. It’s been less than a year since Rhys opened the Imaginarium, and he has used it as a powerful catalyst for community engagement. By offering a series of film screenings, poetry readings, and live, open-mic events, Rhys aspires to set the metaphoric wheels of artistic and imaginative collaboration in motion in Manchester. His well-curated collection of literary treasures serves as a testament to his undying passion for written and cinematic storytelling, which has manifested over multiple decades as a producer, director, actor, screenwriter, journalist, and the founding publisher of MovieMaker Magazine. In between heartfelt conversations with visiting customers and friends, Rhys sat down with Manchester Life to tell the story behind his Wheelwrite Imaginarium Bookshop. He shared his plans for the future of the shop and its creative programming, his film projects in Vermont and beyond, and his thoughts on the power of artistic ingenuity and authenticity.

A Born Storyteller

Rhys traces his creative roots back to early childhood in Maine, where he was deeply influenced by his father’s love for storytelling. “My dad, Eugene Rhys, was a frustrated writer,” Rhys recalls. “He was a Navy frogman who worked as an insurance salesman, and he would often read me poetry—from Service to Kipling to Longfellow—and share his love for old movies. I remember being nine or 10 years old and being fascinated by Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar and Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai.” After graduating from the University of Maine with a degree in Journalism, Rhys pursued his own blossoming passion for film. He ventured to Los Angeles, where he began his initial forays into the world of independent cinema, then enrolled at the Vancouver Film School. “I originally wanted to study something that would provide me with a steady career,” says Rhys, “But my heart was set on filmmaking.”

After he settled in Seattle in 1993, Rhys took a brave leap that combined his journalistic and cinematic skillsets. He founded MovieMaker Magazine, aiming to provide an open platform where aspiring filmmakers and legendary industry icons could come together to speak candidly about the creative process. “I wanted to create a space where filmmakers could share their stories and learn from each other,” says Rhys. Despite starting on a small scale with Northwest U.S. distribution, the magazine soon gained notable traction, garnering the attention of industry heavyweights. One of the defining moments in Rhys’ career with MovieMaker was his cover story interview with the acclaimed director Oliver Stone. “It was a turning point for us,” says Rhys. The interview took place in Seattle, where Stone’s plane made a special stop for MovieMaker on his way back from Japan to Los Angeles. Despite being sleep-deprived, Stone was warm and erudite during the two-hour conversation at a downtown coffee shop, and he shared candid reflections on his career and artistic evolution. “He was incredibly generous. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the challenges he continued to face,” recalls Rhys. The Stone cover story served as a potent catalyst for MovieMaker’s growth, attracting attention from film lovers and industry insiders alike. “Having Stone on the cover gave us more credibility,” says Rhys. “It was a validation of the work we were doing. After it came out, we quickly secured international distribution. It kind of put us on the map, and we were able to get basically whoever we wanted after that.”

Over the years that followed, MovieMaker became well-known for its quality cinematic journalism. Rhys had the privilege of interviewing many other legendary filmmakers over the years, including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jodie Foster, Werner Herzog, and Richard Linklater. “Sitting down one-on-one with all these cinematic heroes of mine was a young journalist and movie nut’s fantasy,” says Rhys. “I think the magazine was able to communicate my enthusiasm to our readers, and I believe we helped fuel the growth of American indie cinema in the 1990s. We were all about empowering our readers, stripping away the mysteries of the ‘art and business of making movies,’ and showing how anyone who wanted to could now become a moviemaker.”

Martin Scorsese, in particular, left a lasting impression on Rhys. “Scorsese’s love for cinema was beyond infectious,” says Rhys. “He spoke with a kind of enthusiasm for the art and history of the craft that I’d rarely heard. Coupled with his encyclopedic knowledge, it was impossible not to be inspired.” Richard Linklater’s interview offered a different perspective, showcasing the power of independent cinema and the importance of just doing what you could with what you had. “Linklater’s journey from an indie filmmaker to a Hollywood success story was intriguing. His commitment to taking risks as a no-budget cinematic storyteller resonated with me.”

Balancing Act

While building MovieMaker into a respected industry publication, Rhys was able to gracefully balance parenting his first two children, Shannon and Nick, as a single father while also pursuing his own moviemaking ambitions. Rhys wrote, produced, and directed numerous films, including the award-winning indie gem, Men In Scoring Position. He cast up-and comer Alan Gelfant (Next Stop Wonderland) and received critical praise for his compelling screenplay, earning several Best Screenplay Awards at festivals and securing international distribution. Rhys eventually turned to producing films, including A Chemical Reaction and Indiscretion (starring Academy Award-winner Mira Sorvino). 

After relocating to his home state of Maine to raise his children, Rhys met his wife, Jessica Rhys, at an acting workshop he took with his son in Portland in 2007. In 2009, as the magazine grew, he decided to move his family to Los Angeles. Although the transition was a profound cultural shift for everyone, it nevertheless had the intended effect of further expanding MovieMaker’s reach. 

Their move to L.A. also paved the way for Tim to found MovieMaker Production Services, a boon for aspiring filmmakers seeking to bring their cinematic visions to life. With a wealth of experience and industry relationships, MovieMaker provided a range of services that facilitated the filmmaking process and did it at a far more reasonable cost. From pre-production to post-production, the team at MovieMaker offered expert guidance and support every step of the way. “We wanted to help moviemakers of all budget levels bring their creative visions to life without being bogged down by the intimidating costs,” said Rhys. Beyond the technical, logistical, and financial aspects of filmmaking, MovieMaker Production Services also offered invaluable mentorship and networking opportunities for independent producers. By increasing their efficiency and connecting them with industry professionals, festivals, and distribution platforms, they increased their chances of industry success. 

After deciding they needed a slower-paced lifestyle, Tim and Jessica relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2014. Tim maintained ownership of MovieMaker until 2019, then chose to sell it in order to shift his focus towards other cinematic projects. The magazine is still thriving to this day under its new management. After the move, Tim continued to produce and began serving on the board of Portland’s historic nonprofit Hollywood Theatre, a distinguished screening venue for high-profile independent films. Jessica applied her years of experience in early childhood education towards opening the Fiddleheads Urban Forest Preschool in Portland. The school still stands today, and Jessica carried on its name and legacy in a new context when she and Tim made the decision to move back to her native Vermont in 2021. She opened the Fiddleheads Farm and Forest School in the same year, which stands adjacent to the Wheelwrite Imaginarium in the heart of Manchester (For more on Fiddleheads Farm and Forest School, see page 60). 

Homeward Bound

According to Rhys, the inspiration to move to the Green Mountain State first began to percolate when he and Jessica temporarily moved to their summer house in Maine with their two boys (Torin and Roan, now 12 and 9) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We found ourselves drawn back to the East coast for a number of reasons— especially Jess’s parents, who were having some health issues,” says Rhys. Although Tim and Jessica were enjoying their time in Maine, they had always planned to move back to Oregon. Fate had other plans for the family when a couple from San Francisco offered to purchase their home in Portland. All signs then pointed to Vermont, where they were traveling regularly to be with Jess’s parents. Tim and Jessica made the difficult decision to part ways with their beloved Portland home, and that set the stage for their next chapter in Vermont.

In late 2020, Tim and Jessica found their historic little compound of buildings in Manchester Center, and they moved in the following summer. They immediately laid plans to transform two spaces into an early childhood forest school similar to the one Jessica ran in Portland, and a haven for literature and film lovers. One of the buildings on the property originally served as a wheelwright and blacksmith shop dating back to 1780. It held a rich history that begged to be rediscovered. With Jessica’s vision for Fiddleheads Farm & Forest School taking shape, Tim found a new home outlet for his creative energy in the nearby wheelwright building. After clearing it out, he launched a literary sanctuary, and Wheelwrite Imaginarium was born. Inspired by his love for literature and poetry, Rhys curated a large collection of books, blending his personal collection with the private collection of the gifted Boston poet and Emerson College professor, Sam Cornish. The result was a cornucopia of wonderful, rare books spanning across genres and eras, with a targeted focus on literature, poetry, and art. 

Rhys’s commitment to authenticity and passion for storytelling permeates every corner of the space, creating a haven for discerning bibliophiles. Celebrated authors and favorites of Tim’s such as John Updike, John Cheever, Charles Bukowski, and Raymond Carver find prominent placement on the shelves. The timeless independent bookstore ambience is beautifully enhanced by posters and photos commemorating Tim’s time at MovieMaker. Signed posters to Tim from the directors of movies such as Midnight Cowboy and Betty Blue adorn the walls adjacent to Boston Red Sox memorabilia and a photo of Jake LaMotta’s historic victory over Sugar Ray Robinson in 1943. Displayed prominently in the store, that photo serves as a reminder of resilience and triumph in the face of adversity, qualities that resonate deeply with Rhys. Another cherished artifact that holds a special place in Rhys’ heart is a painting of Charles Bukowski. “His raw, unapologetic style always captivated me,” says Rhys. Adorned with Bukowski’s image, that painting and others, which feature musicians and artists that range from Johnny Cash to Towses Van Zandt, serve as a tribute to the power of words and the enduring legacy of artistic rebels.

Creativity and Community 

The Wheelwrite Imaginarium is more than just a bookstore; it’s a cultural hub where art, film, and literature converge. To that end, 2024’s roster of events offers a diverse range of experiences for literature and art enthusiasts alike. On February 22, patrons immersed themselves in an evening of poetry and short stories during a Poets and Short Stories Roundtable. On April 9, an open-mic night at Imaginarium hosted by fiddle player Ida Mae Specker offered local performers a platform to showcase their talents. 

From May 23 – May 26, the Imaginarium plays host to the inaugural Vermont Film and Folklore Festival (VFFF), a celebration of independent cinema and the rich cultural heritage of Vermont. This four-day event will feature screenings of independent films, discussions on folklore and storytelling, and a special Vermont sidebar highlighting local filmmakers and traditions. VFFF was founded by Tim Rhys and Indiewire co-founder Karol Martesko-Fenster. “It’s a celebration of storytelling, not just cinematic, although that’s our focus,” says Rhys, the festival director. “We’re bringing in a couple of folklorists to speak on the cultural role of folklore in and outside of Vermont, and we’re looking forward to hosting screenings here, as well as the Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester Community Library, and Burr & Burton Academy.” 

As Tim presses forward with developing the Wheelwrite Imaginarium’s programming and community offerings, he is energized by his ongoing artistic collaborations with his son, Nick Cassidy, a skilled actor, director, and musician based in L.A. Most recently, they partnered on the 2023 thriller, Fallen Drive, where they combined their talents to create a compelling cinematic experience. Tim helped produce the film, and Nick wrote, directed, and played a starring role. “Working with Nick was an incredibly rewarding experience,” says Tim. Their mutual respect for each other’s creative vision formed the foundation of their successful collaboration.

Building on the momentum of their previous project, Tim and Nick are gearing up for another feature that they co-wrote, to be shot in Vermont and upstate New York. “Making Mischief Night is an exciting opportunity for us to push our creative boundaries again,” says Tim. “We’re going to be shooting a good portion of it in this region, and we’re looking forward to starting production this October if things fall into place as we believe they will. Nick will direct this one, as well.” 

Chloe at the bookshop.

Reflecting on the local community’s support for the Imaginarium, Tim acknowledges that despite the bookstore’s semi-secluded location off Main Street, there has been an enthusiastic response. “I built this little business with the intention of celebrating good books, good films, and good storytelling. The stories that mean the most to us play a powerful role in shaping our identities and our characters. There’s a great John Waters quote, ‘Nothing is more important than an unread library.’ The books that I’ve collected here were curated based on my tastes, but I chose them to attract people who also deeply connect with literature and the art of storytelling the way I do. I like to think that if your home is full of books, the story of your life becomes a lot more interesting.”