Director Mariah Larocque, center, on the set of “Good Morning Sunshine,” which was filmed at Sanford High School. Photos by DJ Monteith

First-time director Mariah Larocque’s new short film, “Good Morning Sunshine,” draws from the Maine native’s experiences, both good and very bad.

The Portland resident has already accomplished plenty in the state, graduating from the University of Southern Maine in 2021 with a theater degree and starring in, among other things, two Maine-made films featured in this column, Dan Chaimowitz’s “Dole Mates” and Rob Nixon’s “Wrong Lanes.” She’s a professional photographer, videographer and social media specialist through her company, Mariah Larocque LLC, and working toward a master’s in filmmaking from Maine Media Workshops. Oh, and Larocque was Miss Maine 2021.

But “Good Morning Sunshine,” which is having its Maine premiere Friday at the Sanford Performing Arts Center, draws from a much darker place in the artist’s life. It’s the story of a middle school-aged girl, Vessy (played by New York-based actress Katelyn Beicke) whose unsettled home life leaves her vulnerable to the predations of her seemingly benevolent English teacher, Mr. Carter (John Potvin). After an incident in Carter’s locked classroom, the shattered girl seeks out the school guidance counselor (Suzanne Burke) for help, only for the school’s imperious principal to outright call Vessy a liar, even demanding that she apologize to the man who’d been grooming her – right inside the school’s walls.

Katelyn Beicke, center, as Vessy in “Good Morning Sunshine.”

As Larocque explains, “Good Morning Sunshine” is based on her own true story, one that saw her left to the mercy of a sexual predator for years, while none of the adults in her life believed her. It’s an all-too-familiar situation for many children from all walks of life, and one that led Larocque to become a volunteer for the organization Thrive New England, where she shares her own experiences as part of the battle against child sexual exploitation and trafficking. Larocque also saw her time in USM’s Advanced Screenwriting class as her way to tell a story spotlighting the daily abuse and exploitation so many children face.

“As a survivor, it took me a really long time to find the courage to process what happened to me and to talk about what happened,” said Larocque. “I’d been in the arts for so long, and I suppose I was putting it together as a film in my heart for a while. As a survivor and an artist, there were a lot of mixed emotions, a lot of duality, but in my last semester, one of my last credits was the screenwriting class, and I just decided, ‘Well, why not now?’”

The 23-minute “Good Morning Sunshine,” according to Larocque, is intended as a “proof of concept” for a feature film where the filmmaker intends to expand Vessy’s story to incorporate the fuller portrait of what Larocque herself went through, up to and including the present day. “I actually appear in the film for about three seconds at the end,” said Larocque. “It’s sort of a cliffhanger, showing an older Vessy in a lawyer’s office, pursuing the next steps.”


That scene, as much as the rest of “Good Morning Sunshine,” saw Larocque exposing this very personal (and ongoing) story in the rawest of terms, an experience the filmmaker found both painful and liberating. “I got really emotional at times during filming,” she said. “I felt like I was processing and working through my past while looking toward the future at the same time. I think having so much control and influence on the film was cathartic. Even if there were times when I’d have to excuse myself and cry in the bathroom, listen to some hype music, and then get back out there.”

Working with the young actress taking on her film’s emotionally demanding lead saw Larocque drawing on her own experiences, too. “Casting director Mark J. Parker and I were doing virtual auditions, and in Katelyn, we saw someone with the ability and the emotional depth. But for me as a survivor, working with a child meant safety and respect were at the forefront.” Larocque also credits her deep connections to the Maine film community for the shoot’s smooth and rewarding experience. “I could not have asked for a better cast and crew,” said the filmmaker. “People from all over the Maine film scene, with established relationships – we were a well-oiled machine in there.”

That “there” is Sanford High School, where the film was shot over three days in July 2022, and which is hosting the film’s premiere. That her film about the callous indifference of a school department received overwhelming support of a public school (Larocque especially credits its film department head, James Harmon) isn’t lost on the filmmaker.

“As far as schools go, I have a lot to say,” said Larocque. “On one hand, society has become more open for survivors to come forward since the early 2000s when the film is set. However, my experience shows that there are abundant systems in place whose sole focus is to protect people at the top, whether they’re administrators, teachers or CEOs. This is a movie about protecting children, yes, but it’s also about doing what’s right as opposed to protecting systems of power and what happens when adults don’t help them.”

With “Good Morning Sunshine” having been accepted to various prestigious film festivals already, Larocque is hoping her proof of concept will prove just the enticement for film companies and investors to help her expand her vision. Said the filmmaker, “I still have some 20 festivals to hear back from. Like all young, non financially-abundant filmmakers who want to make a million-dollar film, it can feel like wishing on a star. But more needs to be told, and I’m not going to stop until I make it.”

“Good Morning Sunshine” will premiere on Friday, with a red carpet event beginning at 6:30 p.m. The filmmaker, cast and crew will be in attendance, and the gala premiere includes door prizes, raffles, and a Q&A following the film. Tickets are on a donation basis. To reserve your spot, go to To hear Mariah Larocque tell her own story more fully, check out Garrick Hoffman’s podcast, “Intriguing Individuals.”

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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