Film director says Cloquet is picture-perfect for his film, especially at its grittiestDirector Alex Gutterman remembers the exact moment that he decided his first feature film had to take place in Cloquet rather than the Iron Range as he originally intended.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Director Alex Gutterman remembers the exact moment that he decided his first feature film had to take place in Cloquet rather than the Iron Range as he originally intended.
“That road down by Sappi, the moment I turned that corner, I saw the steam, that long road, I said, ‘I want to shoot here,’” said Gutterman, creative director of Minnesota based Hypothermia Film, adding that he sees Cloquet as an “anywhere industrial town.”
The industry in Cloquet was definitely a plus for Gutterman, who is hoping to film “In Winter” in Cloquet (75 percent) and Duluth (20 percent) next winter. He describes the feature-length film as a “tragic love story” that he’s hoping will make the film festival circuit as an independent art film.
The director was in Cloquet and Duluth earlier this month on a “diplomatic mission,” different from his reconnaissance trips earlier this year. In Cloquet, he met with representatives of both the Cloquet Area Chamber and Carlton County Economic Development, as well as Riki McManus of the Upper Minnesota Film Office, a public-private office that works with film makers working in the region, at the Chamber offices.
“It’s always exciting when a film comes into a community,” McManus said. “It’s exciting; there is economic impact, even with a smaller film; other people get to see what the area has to offer.”
At the Chamber meeting, Gutterman explained the film and talked about ideas for promoting Cloquet on his website and ways local organizations can assist with the film, fund raising proposals and more.
Gutterman talks in scenes. He doesn’t simply see a landmark, such as the paper mill or the band shell in Pinehurst Park. Instead, he pictures a series of events.
“We have this beautiful scene written at the band shell, which shows her expansive spirit,” Gutterman told the group at the Chamber office. “You see the woman walking, alone, she’s dark against the white snow, you hear the crunch of the snow. Then she stands and does a little twirl, and looks out on the pines. Later there’s a scene where she’s up there [on the bandshell stage] and Mark [the male lead] is below, watching her.”
Although he has plans for a number of Cloquet landmarks – the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station and the laundry business behind the station, the Northeastern, Carmen’s, Underground Aquatics and more – it was the steam that drew him, as much as anything.
“The four phases of water are used symbolically and emotionally,” Gutterman said, noting that he would prefer a winter with just a thin hard crust of snow and ice because it’s more “bleak,” than a Cloquet buried in three feet of snow. “Ice, the water is locked, like a person’s emotions, but then the steam is everywhere. You see it again and again.”
In an early press release, Gutterman described the film as follows: “’In Winter’ centers on a single forlorn town in northern Minnesota in dead winter, over the course of several weeks. The film revolves around Annika, a young woman challenged by a lonely existence caring for her dying grandfather, and her unexpected encounter and eventual relationship with Mark, an East Coast journalist passing through the region. ‘In Winter’ weaves together three core thematic threads (sex/love, death/war, and God/truth) through the interpenetration of action/plot, dialogue/script, symbolism, and cinematographic choice.”
In other words, it’s not a warm and fuzzy winter love story. In fact, the “In Winter” Facebook page describes the proposed film as “an independent art film, stark, minimalist, and tragic” and Gutterman described it with a “stark setting, austere aesthetic in the tradition of Bergman and Tarr.”
And that’s OK, McManus said. It doesn’t mean Cloquet isn’t a lovely place to visit, just that we have more to offer.
“When I bring filmmakers in, they don’t just want picture perfect,” she said. “I show them the grit, and I show them the pretty. It depends on what kind of film they’re making.”
McManus said when Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson were scouting locations for a film, they referred to a street in downtown Duluth as a “hot set,” meaning it would be ready for filming without a lot of changes.
Gutterman and crew filmed in Cloquet and Duluth in early February for the purpose of developing a trailer and “B-roll” footage, but they won’t begin the bulk of the film work until next winter. Gutterman has cast his leading man and has a good idea of his leading lady, but said he expects to cast a number of local residents as extras this spring or summer; he’s also looking for a Native American male to play the role of the female’s lead’s uncle, a Korean War vet.
Cloquet Area Chamber President Kelly Zink is excited about working with Gutterman.