“Authenticity” is the key word in Benjamin Dickinson’s film “First Winter.” Cast and crew were forced to live together in a single house for the entire shoot, actors fasted when characters were supposed to be starving, and only natural lighting was used. Dickinson has been called a method director in the past and he doesn’t disagree with that label when it comes to this film, all done in an attempt to make sure the audience isn’t distracted from what he calls the “winter silence.” If this all sounds a bit Ingmar Bergman-esque, then it shouldn’t surprise you that the legendary Swedish director is one of Dickinson’s key influences.
What’s it about?: “It’s about a group of people who are forced into an encounter with their own mortality.”
Director Dickinson says: “It was important to me that the film feel as authentic as possible. The characters in the movie are forced to live austerely, simply, and I wanted to reflect that in our method of production. So we had the entire cast and crew living in the house for the whole shoot, working, cooking, eating together. There was no catering. During the time when the characters are starving, the cast fasted. We turned the power off and heated the rooms with fire only. We lit the film without any electricity (except the first day when they still have power). All the daytime scenes are lit with the sun, and all the nighttime scenes are lit with candles, kerosene lamps, and firelight. That Fuji 500 stock is amazing. All the music in the movie is diegetic. I knew from the beginning I didn’t want any score, and all the music is played live by the cast. It was important to me that we weren’t distracted from that winter silence.”
On challenges: “Last year Matt Gubler described me as a “method filmmaker,” which I think is apt, because I do try to set up an authentic, immersive experience for the cast and play with the line between what’s pretend and what’s real. Accordingly, the line between my personal life and the film I’m making becomes very thin as well; and not just when I’m writing, but when i’m directing, acting, editing, etc. So in a way I feel like filmmaking for me is akin to some sort of ritual community healing, and perhaps even an experiment with truth. It’s a method that I believe in philosophically, but as you can imagine it can be pretty painful at times, even terrifying.”
What would you like Tribeca audiences to come away with: “If people come away from this film feeling a little bit differently about their lives, even in a small way, I would consider that a success. Does that sound grandiose?”
Any specific inspirations?: “The Sacrifice, Gerry, Silent Light, and especially Bergman’s 60’s movies.”
What do you hope to get out of the Tribeca experience?: “Spreading the love across lower Manhattan with the whole “First Winter” cast & crew.”
Any future projects?: “This movie is about hippies. My next movie is about yuppies.”
Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.