A small team of US midwest filmmakers offered its first effort, In Winter, to NYC film fans on Thursday the 10th of August at 3:30 P.M. as part of the inaugural running of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.
The film finds its center in the character ANNIKA (Nora Targonski O’Brien), a young woman in constrained circumstances, caring for an aging and senile GRANDFATHER (Dale R. Botten) who is haunted by memories of war. Its setting is a small northern town in the dead of winter. When MARK (Charles Hubbell), a wealthy married man stops in her town to visit affluent friends on his way to the Coast, an intense emotional and sexual entanglement develops between him and ANNIKA, whose powerful emotional depth hides beneath the stoic exterior of the small town underclass.
Under the chaste but passionate eye of local pastor FATHER JIM (John Cromwell), in the milieu of Annika’s world of small town bars and Mark’s background of jaded old money, the affair unfolds. Below the blanket of the bleak frigid sky, ANNIKA opens to possibilities previously inconceivable, while MARK is slowly swallowed by the merciless cold and solitude of the setting and the affair.
IndependentFilmNow interviewed Alexander Gutterman, co-writer and co-director of feature film In Winter (with Aboubacar M. Camara) by e-mail. Excerprts from their interview follow.
Mike Fishman for IndependentFilmNow (IFN): Where did the idea for the story and its Minnesota setting come from?
Alexander Gutterman: The original inspiration for In Winter came from a powerful and painful experience I had over a series of months with a young woman from Vermont. This was around 2006 or so. This intense sexual and emotional entanglement was deeply gratifying but also deeply traumatizing, and at some point after it ended, I wrote and began to develop a short film called Loss which I was planning to shoot in Vermont with some colleagues. After moving to MN to be near my children, the original concept and core emotional tone of Loss developed organically into the In Winter script, informed by the severe cold, bleak emptiness, and post-Us-Steel depressed majestic industry of the Duluth region and the peoples and atmosphere of Northern MN.
IFN: You co-wrote and co-directed In Winter with Aboubacar Camara. How did that process unfold? Did you work remotely by e-mailing back and forth drafts of the screenplay? Did you each work on certain aspects or sections of the story? How did you work out the daily directing of the film?
Alexander Gutterman: When I first met Bouba there was this sense that it was NECESSARY that we collaborate. We met with the In Winter team from 2010 or so on, in study sessions, script reads, brainstorms, casting, and exploratory shoots to develop our understanding of the project. We overlapped to a degree creatively, but once on set Bouba focused primarily on technical oversight of the camera and lighting team while I periodically guided shot set up with the DP and gave most of my attention to the performances. The story was mine, as was the screenplay, but Bouba was both responsible for the formatting of the screenplay and led the editing process. Bouba’s significant work in the editing room was substantive enough to generate a writing credit, as key choices of his made major structural alterations in the unfolding of the film when viewed structurally.
IFN: The direction is at times almost austere and reminiscent of certain European auteurs. In many shots, the camera remains fixed while a character moves in or out of the frame. In one scene, for example, set in a kitchen, the camera remains focused on one character (the grandfather) while Annika (his granddaughter and the film’s main character) moves about just off-screen making him lunch, her body eventually entering the frame but not her face, and holding on that shot. What was your intention with such specific use of the camera and framing?
Alexander Gutterman: A tremendous amount of energy and thought went into the film’s cinematography. At the meta level, we looked closely at Bergman, Ozu, and Kubrick, taking what we thought relevant to our piece from each of them. We also examined each major location from a theoretical and symbolic perspective, and designed a signature use of the camera for each of these locations which remained consistent throughout the work. For example, at the Lake House of the wealthy we lookd to Kubrick’s limpid, clear presentation, at the Church we looked to a chiaroscuro reminiscent of Bergman. We developed our own approach to the Grandfather’s house, where we strove to create a sense of voyeurism by making sure that each shot was occluded or partially blocked by a doorway, wall, or some other aspect of the structure. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our motto for the construction of composition was “every shot a painting.” I worked with Joah Colby and Dan FItzpatrick and Bouba very closely on every single set up, looking for compelling composition, asymmetry, intrugueing depth exploration, and so forth.
With reference to the “kitchen shot” – we wanted to challenge the audience with a painful, lonely, silent and legthy experience where Annika’s frustration and anger is only knowable from the sounds of her opening cans and working with the microwave – in that same kitchen sequence, Annika’s status as an object (which she occupies in the lives of so many men) is explored through presenting only her elbows, hips, legs, buttocks and so forth. In this way her dehumanized situation receives symbolic visual expression.
Visit the films website: http://inwinterfilm.com