Black Field

Danishka Esterhazy’s Black Field
Friday, May 28 at 7:00 PM
Friday, May 28 at 9:00 PM
Saturday, May 29 at 7:00 PM
Sunday, May 30 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, June 2 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, June 3 at 7:00 PM
Friday, June 4 at 7:00 PM (introduction by director Danishka Esterhazy)
Saturday, June 5 at 7:00 PM
Sunday, June 6 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, June 9 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, June 10 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Opening night Q & A with cast and crew: Moderator: Jeff Skinner, Producer. Panel: Ferron Guerreiro (actor), Ricardo Alms (Production Designer), Ashley Hirt (Producer), Dr. Rhonda Hinther (Historical Consultant)

Winnipeg director Danishka Esterhazy’s striking feature debut, Black Field, is a historical drama set in 19th century Manitoba about two sisters and the man who comes between them. Inspired by the gothic novels of the Brontë sisters, Black Field is the story of Maggie McGregor and her sister Rose, who find themselves left without any help to support their farm following the death of their father. The young sisters’ lives are forever changed when a mysterious and charming man, David Latouche, arrives at their isolated farm. As the mesmerizing French Canadian trapper starts to win the sisters over, love, lust, desperation, and – finally – tragedy unfold, all surrounded within the stunning cinematography of Winnipeg’s Paul Suderman.

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From Uptown Magazine May 28, 2009

A Gothic love letter to the Prairies
Local writer/director Danishka Esterhazy’s feature-length debut, Black Field, is shaping up to be a striking period piece

The road from short films to successful feature-length narratives can be a tricky one to navigate, considering the need to sustain and deepen crucial elements such as pace, characterization and general interest in the story that’s being unraveled.

According to everyone I spoke with on my recent set visit to Black Field‘s Tyndall, Man., location, writer/director Danishka Esterhazy is up to the challenge.

The Manitoba-born-and-bred director is hard at work on this “Gothic love triangle” rife with the multiculturalism intrinsic to our province circa late 19th century. Scottish homesteaders, a French-Canadian drifter, Ukrainian émigrés and English members of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police all intersect in Esterhazy’s tale of romance and betrayal.

After getting my fair share of fresh air out in the stark and muddied locations that serve as the film’s remote farmland, the cast, crew and I retreated to home base for lunch. It was here that I spoke with Esterhazy about the genesis of the project and her many visual influences.

“I’ve always been a really big fan of Gothic literature – in particular, the novels of the Bronte sisters. As a child, before I had the chance to visit England, I always imagined the English moors to look like the Canadian Prairies. Now, of course, after being there, I realize they look nothing alike; still, I thought it would be fun to write a story fit for the moors but have it take place here.”

Esterhazy’s previous shorts, 2005’s The Snow Queen and 2003’s Endings, have been frequently praised for their striking visuals, and her feature-length debut is shaping up to be similarly captivating.

Her collaborator on camera this time around is local director of photography Paul Suderman (Guy Maddin’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary). I asked her about the initial stages, when coming up with strategies and points of artistic reference are the main concerns.

“My influences came from more of the visual arts. One of the biggest would have to be the Victorian portraitures of Julia Margaret Cameron, whose work is unique and haunting in the way she photographed real women, elevating them into a kind of magical realm.

“The other key were the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, whose work mainly consists of stark Prairie minimalism, big landscapes – you know, the famous Christina’s World with the woman on the field and the farm in the background. Also, his colour palette helped inform the film: lots of beiges and blacks and grays, with no primary colours. Everything’s washed out and sepia-toned.”

Esterhazy addressed the concern of accomplishing a historical drama on a budget.

“Wisdom in the field is that you can’t do it on a half-a-million-dollar budget, as you need horses and sets and so many elaborate things. But I think one of Winnipeg’s strengths is our creative film community; the production designer and wardrobe designers just created all of this within our budget. It doesn’t look low-budget at all – in fact, everything’s lush and of the period.

“This is what it looks like to have lived like this in the 1870s.”

The film is produced by Two Lagoon Productions, headed by Jeff Skinner and Kent Ulrich.

– Aaron Graham

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From Uptown Magazine May 27, 2010

The great unravelling act
Danishka Esterhazy’s Black Field starts out incredibly strong, but drags its heels in the second half

An early scene in this film offers the perfect exercise in empathy.

Maggie McGregor (Sara Canning) is the elder of two sisters living alone on a 19th-century Manitoba farm. A handsome stranger arrives, named David Latouche (Mathieu Bourguet). He takes quick — and clearly interested — note that the sisters’ nearest neighbour is miles away.

Imagine you were Maggie. Imagine you were any woman her age — say, alone at a remote bus stop. Might your heart pound a little harder at encountering a man who seems pleased there’s no one around?

Sexual danger simmers not just in this scene, but throughout Black Field, the debut feature from Winnipeg writer/director Danishka Esterhazy. It also illustrates that, for the dramatist, there’s rich possibilities in sexual repression.

Indeed, this Prairie Gothic tale is driven as much by passions that good Scottish Presbyterians know is the stuff of wickedness. Yet implications of peril may well be justified: after all, who is Latouche and what does he want — particularly from 14-year-old Rose (Ferron Gurreiro)?

What’s best about Black Field is its psychological complexity. When Maggie demurs about Latouche staying at the farm, what are her reasons? Fear of the man, or of her own sexual desire? Or is she jealous he may prefer the younger Rose?

All these, in fact, may not be mutually exclusive, and the script develops the conflict straight through, with character revelations right up to the very end. Esterhazy also demonstrates a strong grasp of visual storytelling, understanding that a gesture or simple insert can convey all necessary meaning.

Unfortunately, this early tension isn’t sustained. Were the whole of Black Field as tight as its first half hour, this would be a near-great film. Instead, it’s a good film that proves screenwriting guru Syd Field right: most movies, if they go astray, do so in the second act.

The lynchpin of the film is Canning’s performance as Maggie. She’s in almost every scene and is fascinating because it’s hard to know what she’s thinking. Bourguet is equally enigmatic; the weak side of the triangle is Guerreiro, who mostly comes across rather one-dimensionally (not to mention a little too dolled up).

Practically a character unto itself is Black Field’s rude setting: the cinematography makes the scraggily wooded prairie cold and foreboding. On the other hand, there are gorgeously photographed horizons that echo the landscapes of John Ford.

For that matter, the minimalist lighting is actually appropriate to the time and place, when crude domiciles had gloomy interiors. It also makes for a fitting mood, and the use of copious shadows puts the dramatic focus on the characters.

Yet the editing is often abrupt, as in the inexplicable termination of a truly arousing sex scene. And several bits with two Mounties not only impede the plot’s momentum, they’re just awkward. Black Field, like its characters, could stand to clean up a little. As the Scots would say, however, it has good bones.

– Kenton Smith

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~ by cineflyer on May 24, 2010.

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