VIFF 2009 Interview – Black Field director Danishka Esterhazy

By Jason Whyte
Posted 10/08/09 18:33:50

“Black Field is a dark historical drama inspired by the novels of the Brontë sisters. Set in the Canadian prairies in the late 19th century, it tells the story of two sisters whose lives are forever changed when a mysterious and charming man arrives at their isolated farm.” Director Danishka Esterhazy on the film “Black Field” which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first film in the VIFF? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend VIFF for the screenings?

This is my first visit to VIFF. I plan to attend as many screenings and events as possible. Many of my cast and crew will also be in Vancouver for the festival.

Could you give me a little look into your and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I have always loved film. As a child, I would go to theatres and watch the same film again and again from the morning matinee to the last evening screening. I loved movies that created a world with so much detail that I could imagine myself visiting that world long after the film was over. As a filmmaker, it is a dream come true to create those worlds.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

… Historian. That was my original plan. I have a BA in History from the University of Winnipeg. In filming Black Field, a historical drama, my training in history has finally been of some use!

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.

I wrote the script in early 2008 and then teamed up with the local Manitoba production company Two Lagoons Entertainment. We developed the script with funding from Super Channel. Then, we applied to Telefilm’s Low Budget Independent Feature Film Assistance Program – which is a director-driven program. Telefilm liked the script and awarded us the funding. We also received funding from Manitoba Film & Music. We shot the film in May 2009 and now we are premiering it at VIFF. It all happened very fast – although I have other feature scripts that have been in development for years. It is very challenging to get your first feature film green lit. So I was really thrilled that there was so much support for this story.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

The biggest challenge is that we were trying to create a full-blown historical drama with a very small budget. We had less than half a million dollars, which is not a lot of money when you are trying to re-create the 1870s – with sets, costumes, horses, guns, etc. Our crew had to be very creative. My Production Designer, Ricardo Alms, did an amazing job.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

We shot “Black Field” on 2-perf 35mm film. I wanted to shoot on film because I thought it would create a painterly look that would be fitting for the gothic-inspired imagery in this story. Luckily, I won the Kodak New Vision Award in 2008 (sponsored by Women in Film and Television – Toronto) that provided me with $5000 of free motion picture film. That award helped immensely.

One of the looks that my cinematographer (Paul Suderman) and I planned very carefully was the night interior candlelight scenes. I really wanted to capture the look of a world that existed before electricity. I did not want the scenes to be overlit. We embraced the look of deep shadowed corners and faces that disappear into blackness. It was challenging, but I am very happy with what we achieved.

Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with the film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?

VIFF will be our world premiere so no one has seen the film yet. Not even the cast and crew!

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

Director Kari Skogland (50 Dead Men Walking, Stone Angel) was my mentor through the Kodak New Vision Award. She helped me a great deal and I find her very inspiring. I also love the work of directors Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Catherine Breillat. But my main visual inspirations for Black Field were the paintings of Andrew Wyeth and the Victorian photography of Julia Margaret Cameron.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?

I used to be a full-time musician. So, if I had not found filmmaking, I might still be playing and teaching the harp.

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

For actors, I would love to work with Helena Bonham Carter and Cillian Murphy. For crew, I would love to work with Production Designer Eugenio Caballero.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Before “Black Field”, I have only made short films. And short films do not get much critical attention. So, the response to Black Field will be very educational for me. I have no idea how much or how little critical attention my film will receive. I do not know if that attention will be positive or negative. But I am very excited to be entering a larger world in terms of audience and critical review.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

I’d love to have my film play at an outdoor theatre. Perhaps at a festival in Canada or Europe…

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

Canadian history is sexy. At least it is in my film!

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

The key is to persevere. There are no easy paths to success. You just have to keep making your films.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

“Blind” by Tamar van den Dop. This film is a haunting adult fairy tale from the Netherlands that has not received the attention it deserves. I cried so much when I saw this film that strangers in the audience tried to console me.

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. For more information on the film’s screenings, showtimes and update information, point your browser to – Jason Whyte,

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