The opening scene of director Alex Gutterman's "In Winter" first feature-length film was shot looking out from the Northeastern bar on Cloquet's Dunlap Island toward the USG factory and the railroad tracks in between.
"The main character, Annika, walks out onto the tracks and all you see is snow falling and USG. The only movement is snow, a flag fluttering and the vapor rising," Gutterman explained. "It's all still and silent."
Eight minutes of the 97-minute independent film was taken up by that opening sequence. Gutterman said the person who burned the movie to DVD said that was a record at Dreamscape: 8 minutes with no dialogue.
The movie will make its local debut at at Teatro Zuccone on Friday, June 1, at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Duluth Superior Film Festival.
The settings for the movie should be incredibly familiar to Carlton County residents, and not just because of the cold weather.
Gutterman and co-director Aboubacar Camara shot "In Winter" in Cloquet, Duluth and Superior in 2013-14 — more in Cloquet than anywhere else, although Cloquet is never named. Rather, it is simply called "The North," Gutterman said.
"The small, the lonely, the hard," he said. "This is a place where people work hard. They are veterans. People can be lonely."
According to the synopsis, Annika is a young woman, abandoned by parents, left to deal with her aging and senile grandfather, while also confronted by poverty, isolation and sexual oppression.
When Mark, a wealthy, married stranger on his way to a sailing competition, visits her bleak lakeside town during the dead of winter, a quiet but intense sexual entanglement develops. Opened and transformed as a result of the affair, Annika faces possibilities normally unavailable to people of her class, while Mark gradually falls into a forlorn, cold solitude.
In short, it likely isn't a movie that will make people feel warm and fuzzy about Cloquet. Yet, one of Gutterman's goals was to show people the cold beauty of the Northland.
There are a number of Cloquet locations featured in the movie, including the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station and former Cloquet Laundromat, the Northeastern, Underground Aquatics and Zoey's Boutique, homes and Carmen's, as well as several other locations within the city.
Gutterman said Carmen's was a key location, and was the place where they explored the motif of everyday life.
"Each location has a motif and a theoretical and philosophical meaning," Gutterman said.
The Northeastern bar and hotel, on the other hand, is a critical location in terms of emotional and erotic scenes, he said.
The vapor of Cloquet's industries — the white clouds of smoke and steam rising from USG; Sappi and Jarden were all featured repeatedly — was also a critical part of the movie, Gutterman said.
He said many local people helped make the film happen, from those who played extras in the movie, to local business owners, to Deb Weckert, who helped them find housing, and the priest in Morgan Park who let them film in the church there before it was torn down.
Gutterman said he's excited to bring the movie home after completing it in March 2017 and taking it to seven film festivals, in locations as disparate as southern Minnesota and Iowa, Sweden, New York City, India and Los Angeles.
In a July 2017 spotlight of the movie in advance of the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema, Jennifer Khedaroo of the Queens Ledger called the movie "A stately drama of stillness and silences, even with roiling emotions under the surface."
It is not a "big box"-style movie. Gutterman calls it a "European-style art film done in what you might call an American idiom."
The director warned that although "In Winter" is unrated, it would be rated "R" for frank sexuality.
The movie will be released on DVD by Dreamscape Media on June 12. Gutterman said he's also hoping to have it shown locally in the future.
If you go
"In Winter" will make its local premiere at Duluth's Teatro Zuccone on Friday, June 1, at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Duluth Superior Film Festival. The cast and crew will be on hand to discuss the movie in the lobby afterward.
"In Winter" was shot in Cloquet, Duluth and other regional locations. This is the last stop of an eight-festival run.
Admission is free. The movie is unrated but contains mature content.
Find the trailer at inwinterfilm.com.