Thanks to the Duluth Superior Film Fest, Duluth was awash in independent films last week. The event offered an interesting slice of culture and some trips down memory lane. I skipped the much-lauded reunion for the Disney movie “Iron Will,” which was shot in the region 20 years ago. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet (!) and I had other things going on during the screening. But I did attend screenings for two other movies.
“Fifty Lakes, One Island,” by Chicago-based filmmaker, George Desort, is about one of my favorite places on Earth: Isle Royale National Park. In a quest to visit each lake on this wilderness island, which is itself in the middle of a big lake (Lake Superior), Desort spent 80 nights on Isle Royale. The movie is not so much a lake-bagging countdown as it is an exploration of external and internal wilderness terrain.
Of course, the external wilderness is the island itself. Desort bushwhacked to many of the lakes, a feat complicated by wetlands and the rugged landscape, which he often negotiated carrying his kayak, camera equipment and food. The trip was made further challenging by the island’s mercurial weather and penchant for stealing things (like water shoes) strapped to the outside of packs.
Exploration of the internal wilderness comes with the isolation and lack of distractions. As the film’s Vimeo website states: “Desort’s breathtaking footage is paired with his personal, unvarnished story-telling.” He introduces this in the very first scene, in which he’s kayaking and reminiscing about how the tent he is using ties him to his sister and father. The personal narrative continues through to the end of the film where, punctuated by loon calls, Desort talks about feeling as if the island is about to unveil a great secret. Does he learn the secret? You’ll have to watch the movie to see!
The other screening was for a work-in-progress called “In Winter.” In a freewheeling discussion, local director Alex Gutterman described the process of making the movie and showed trailers and clips. Set against the starkness of a northern winter, the movie deals with the themes of class, culture, and relationships.
One of my friends is an extra and supporter of the film and it was fun to hear his experiences being involved in the production. It’s certainly not glamorous. But I think that makes a person appreciate the finishing and polishing that goes into the final product all the more. This movie is expected to make its debut in November 2013.
My claim to fame is that I was in a movie with Bradley Cooper. “Older Than America” was shot in nearby Cloquet, Minn., about six years ago, back before Cooper became famous for his roles in “The Hangover” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” and as “People” magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. I never did see Mr. Cooper on set (sigh) but in my role as an extra I did get to work with the talented Tantoo Cardinal of “Dances with Wolves” fame. I had the privilege of touching her arm as I led her from a hospital room where we were “electroshocking” her niece.
But enough name-dropping. The independent film deals with the fall-out from the common past practice of sending Native American children to boarding schools to acculturate them. I got to play a nurse who was assisting with the electroshocking of the aforementioned Native American lady. Although the role was not one I would have chosen, I jumped at the chance to be involved and learn more about the workings of movie production.
I suspect I got the part because I was the only one who could fit into the period nurse uniform they had. Even so, a button popped off when I put it on, and the staff seamstress had to sew it on before I could go on set. The button situation was holding up production, and the seamstress was so stressed, I thought she would stab me with her needle as she sewed while I stood there wearing the uniform. I escaped unscathed.
I learned that movie production is a lot of “hurry up and wait,” and repetition. We must have done that electroshocking scene 15 times. I felt so sorry for the actress who was writhing on the table. She expended a lot of energy! There were also some psychologists on hand who coached the actress about how a patient being electroshocked with 1950s equipment would behave.
I also learned that once you’ve served your purpose, filmmakers tend to forget you. My name does not appear in the credits and I got no notification about the local screening. I heard about it by accident and snuck in unticketed (shhhsh) in a move of stealth I’m still proud of even today. But I get to brag that I was in a movie with Bradley Cooper and I appear in the movie trailer (and the movie). Seems like payment enough.