Once There Was a Winter Interview With Director Ana Valine and Actor Teach Grant
Once There Was a Winter premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival Sunday, Oct. 1st / 2017. Shot in northern British Columbia, where heavy snows and quiet roads build a cold setting of solitude framed by forest, this thriller succeeds in bringing out some disturbing questions. What truly makes a predator? What about a victim? The film answers with clever camera angles, wolves who are not as they first appear, and complex characters who have enough humanity in them to fuel desperation. Lady is our guide through this complex maelstrom of teetering violence, and when the plot reaches its height and breaks the brittle tension that has been building throughout the entire film, viewers will find themselves uncertain of what will come next, simply because Once There Was a Winter showcases a scenario that could happen anywhere, at any time.
Writer and director Ana Valine and the actor behind the Welder, Teach Grant, had some excellent answers to questions asked by Abrianna Leaming of Metro Living Zine, Inc.
Spoiler alert: please note that there is discussion on significant plot points.
When you first sat down to get started on Once There Was a Winter’s script, what inspired you to write the film that you did?
I wrote the first draft in three weekends, and the welding aspect was from my own experience on the pipeline when I was in my twenties. I forgot about the script for a while; I had originally written it for a short feature, but was told it was too big for a short film. So I put it aside and forgot about it. After Sitting on The Edge of Marlene, I returned to it and was able to sit down and quietly write the full version. The characters started to talk, and I was like, “F***, okay, I have to write this down…”
As for inspiration, I had had a night that was a bit dodgy some time ago, and there was definitely some fear over some things. And I thought, how many women go through this sort of thing?
Lady has a powerful personality with an unnervingly sharp gaze. What is one thing you really want your female audience to take away from her character?
She made choices, whether they were safe or not. She made choices to stay ahead, not out of fear, but out of survival. She always kept her integrity, no matter the amount of alcohol or confusion. She had choice. She made unpopular choices, such as why did she keep staying, instead of leaving? The important thing is that she had the power of decision.
Same question, but geared towards the male audience.
There are no heroes. If we are talking politically, or on the woman’s experience…what really makes someone more dangerous than the other? Each character has their own bizarre reactions to messed up situations, and they all have vulnerabilities…especially the three men.
The wolves have a major role throughout the film. What do they signify for you?
I actually didn’t write them consciously, knowing what I know now. I learned some things after I initially wrote their scenes. For instance, when Kate Corbett was researching, she discovered something very interesting. During the scene where Lady is first approaching the trailer, and you hear a whine…it turns out that wolves only whine like that when they recognize a member of their pack. Also, females in wolf packs are very strong. Which works perfectly for how the wolves are portrayed. In the scene where Lady sees the pair of wolves, it shows two characteristics; danger and peace. Wolves hold the power of both. Which way is it going to go? They have…a mystical feeling around them. There is also the idea of predator vs. prey. The humans in this film do the unexpected, and are shown more as the predator. The events in the trailer are more dangerous than the threat of the wolves.
Also, in the middle of the film, when the female wolf is shot…there is a change in dynamic. Lady is thoroughly surrounded by male energy. In some ways, it is almost a Persephone like journey. Making a path out of the ‘underworld.’
Who was your favorite character to write, besides Lady?
The Hunter. He is so complex. He is so charming. He was actually so fun to write because he was so freaking charming. What was he going to say now? Writing him was surprising. He’s a hunter, who is well read and a great conversationalist.
What makes a film great for you?
It has to move me. I like to be moved in my body in some way. Which means I don’t always understand everything. I like to be surprised. I like to see new visual and audio tools. When the experience of the film takes you to places by way of camera and sound.
Do you feel like Once There Was a Winter does this?
Yes, but not obviously. This is a film you experience in an emotional and sensory way. It is not easily expressed by words. It looks and is structured traditionally (plot turns when expected), though the camera work is done so the film is seen through Lady’s eyes. The final result of the film pushes experimental boundaries.
When you first read the script of Once There Was a Winter, what were your initial thoughts?
It was…interesting. I had to read it three times, to let it sink in. The more I read it, the more humanity came out of the characters. It was different than anything I have read before. And it was dark!
I was probably overwhelmed, during the first read. My imagination, of course, took the script one step further and made it even darker than it was.
How does the role compare to others you have done?
What drew me to the project, I’m usually the dark, unhinged one. Nine times out of ten. When I looked at Welder, I had to find the moral compass in a dangerous situation…which is different, when I’m normally the cause of the danger. Welder’s trying to help, although he’s flawed. In Welder’s eyes, Lady is an object not to be owned, which is a brand of darkness in itself. He’s always listening, observing, calculating.
What was the biggest challenge for you when bringing the Welder to life?
Finding the push and pull, bringing out the psychological aspect, of how he doesn’t do more to end the night sooner. Not helping Lady was difficult.
What did you love about the Welder?
He has a remarkable amount of compassion. He is very patient. If he was Teach Grant, not Welder, the movie would have been a lot shorter. He really loves his brother.
How were the others to work with?
It was pretty amazing…you take four actors, who are always in the scenes or behind the scenes, doing something, you don’t think things would go so smoothly. Everybody was able to give and take, which is rare. We were always driving together, working together…it was a cohesive experience. I’d say the most impressive was Kris (the Plumber), as he had the least experience, and really held his own.
Which scene was your favourite to do?
Throughout the film, there is so much pressure building. We were filming that for a long time, and in a dark place. When I got to rip the deer leg off, and hacked at the meat…it was a needed release.
How do you think the Welder views Lady?
He starts off thinking he wants to date her, but has no guts. There is an age difference, obviously…he sees her become more human as the film goes on, sees her as someone in trouble. By the end of the movie, the chance he had at the beginning is gone. She becomes something more. Stronger, earns his respect. Started as just his helper, ended as an abstract equal.
What do you think is going through your character’s head when Lady forces him out of the driver’s seat?
He’s confused. From his perspective, he thinks he was trying to help. Both characters have different information coming into the scene. Lady has no idea what the Welder has done to get to this point. He becomes aware of how hurt she is at this point. He’s lonely, and it isn’t easy to put himself out there. Saying all that, however, he is definitely not the victim. Not at all.
What do you think will be the general reaction from the audience?
It’s a situation that doesn’t just take place in a trailer in northern BC. It could happen anywhere, which it does, unfortunately. People hope for a silver lining, but this film doesn’t have it. It’s a whole lot like life. There are no story book endings. Lady finds her way, but that doesn’t always happen. Of course, I hope the audience can see through to the humanity of the three men.
No one is going to leave smiling. This film provokes thought. Men and women will see it differently…each individual woman will see it differently.
Once There Was a Winter will be on screen for a second time this Friday, Oct. 6th / 2017, at 4:30 pm at International Village.
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