Wess Haubrich – May 2nd, 2018
“This movie is about the power of – well, the choice really – to believe.” – Meet film-maker Daniel Stine of Virginia Minnesota
I caught up with director Daniel Stine of Virginia Minnesota to talk film-making, the nature of mythology, our mutual love of Minnesota, influences, movies and so much more.
Virginia Minnesota is about 2 young women, torn apart by a childhood tragedy, who unexpectedly reunite and embark on an illuminating 24-hour journey, where they unlock memories of long forgotten innocence and what it means to truly believe. The film stars Aurora Perrineau as Addison and Rachel Hendrix as Lyle, who have a fun and memorable chemistry as the film’s female leads.
What really makes Virginia Minnesota stand out though is the mythological content interspersed with the life stories of the film’s leads. This isn’t myth in the sense of religion or even traditional Greco-Roman mythology, but rather a more broad psychoanalytic conception of “mythology”, in-line with what thinkers like Carl Jung have said on the subject. This allows a individualized look at what the characters are going through, which can be extrapolated to larger lessons about humanity itself.
The mythological component of Virginia Minnesota adds a lot of character to the film’s narrative although some people may view it as “random.” To people who get that feeling, I’d politely suggest watching again with a bit more attention; if not, you will miss a powerful, fun, and resonant film.
Virginia Minnesota is making the festival rounds now. I highly recommend following the film here on Facebook to stay tuned in for future possibilities as well to catch it.
Hello Daniel and welcome to The 405! I’d like to start – if I may – by inquiring into your history a bit. What got you into film?
Hello! Well, I think Steven Spielberg got me into film. I was five-years-old when I found a dusty VHS copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark in my grandmother’s basement. I put it in the machine, and then I knew from that point on I wanted to be an archeologist.
Which, of course, later turned into filmmaker. Guess I thought that would be more realistic than an adventurer who runs from boulders and Nazis. Still not sure if I was right though…
Judging by Virginia Minnesota, I’d say you made the right choice – we’ll get to it momentarily.
Favorite films and directors? Which do you consider most pivotal on your development as a film-maker?
Outside of being a Spielberg kid (I can quote the entire script of Jurassic Park – even the Spanish at the beginning, and I don’t even speak Spanish…)
I loved Edward Zwick. Glory and Legends of the Fall were life-changers, but I was also drawn to films like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Exorcist, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf…
A lot of my favorite films could have been easily translated to the stage – some of them, of course, like Virginia Woolf or Doubt were plays. But films like Linklater’s Before trilogy or Billy Bob Thornton‘s Slingblade – they were fairly simple stories with unforgettable dialogue. I suppose Before Sunrise on stage would be tough though – they’d be walking in circles the whole time. Slingblade the Musical however? There’s your moneymaker.
Ha! I just heard “French fried potaters” put to a jaunty tune in my head. [Laughs]
What makes a great film?
It transports you. And it doesn’t make you doubt that it’s happening.
Excellent summation. Getting into Virginia Minnesota, I’m curious what was the spark of inspiration for the story and the project?
The spark was the unique location. That’s always done it for me. There’s a town called Grand Marais, Minnesota. Once I visited – saw the lighthouse, met the people – then the plot and the characters started to form. I was so impressed with and charmed by Grand Marais, I wanted to make the whole movie about that town. But then the more I drove down Lake Superior‘s coastline… well, the plot kept getting bigger. More locations, more interesting characters. Suddenly I had a road trip film. I didn’t set out to make an indie “road trip” movie. That concept would have made me roll my eyes. But I think we found a way to do it a little different.
I’d say so. The tie-in with mythology was a particularly good point of difference there.
Besides the location, some of the story was based loosely on stories my grandparents told me when I was young. They ran, for a short time, a home of neglected boys from troubled families. There were a lot of sad and funny and inspiring stories there. I wanted to explore the dynamic of those kids further.
Oh wow. Yeah that’s quite the interesting personal touch there.
I was fascinated by the film because more than a quarter of my family is actually from Minnesota (the Moorhead, MN / Fargo, ND area). Most people, myself very much included, are fascinated by that local culture of Minnesota, something I thought the film captured well – my question, what were some of the challenges in weaving that local culture, the main story of the women, and the myths the film touches on, into a coherent and compelling whole? What were some of the challenges in shooting and actually making the film?
I thought about “The Odyssey” a lot before shooting this one. Not that we have a Greek epic here with Virginia Minnesota, but I did think it would be exciting and fun to have our characters come across these different vignettes and legends.
It certainly was I thought.
But I also knew it could be risky – it could seem a bit “random” to those who aren’t really paying attention. Each local legend and character they stumble upon is a part of their healing process. I wanted to tell a story that felt like Virginia – as a mostly absent character in the film – had her hand on the whole time. The Legend of Virginia Minnesota is the one that she’s creating for us on the screen. And since what we’re seeing on the screen, in many ways, is her doing, it allowed us to have some fun with their characters. It allowed us to play in the realm of the absurd, even when the major conflict is quite grounded and a little dark. So the main challenge was finessing that tonal balance.
In terms of shooting, however, our biggest hardship was how many locations we had on such a low budget. We were all over Lake Superior – sometimes even in it. There were hundreds of miles between some of these locations, and each place came with its own set of challenges. It was certainly ambitious for our budget and timeline, but I had a hell of a crew and cast. The behind the scenes was more dramatic than the film! Maybe I’ll make a Greek Epic about that
There you go Daniel. I thought you deftly hit that tonal balance. What do you hope the audience will carry with them from Virginia Minnesota?
I hope audiences feel hopeful. And I hope they enjoy their weird little road trip with Addison and Lyle. This movie is about the power of – well, the choice really – to believe. Not in a religious sense, but rather the choice to believe in all of those childhood things that we’ve let go of as adults. Even if we don’t believe in them deep down anymore, there is power in the gift of passing that wonder on to the next generations.
That goes well with the film’s exploration of what really is a Jungian conception “mythology” as something that is applicable to and allegorical of the human experience – not aloof and far off.
Last, what is next for you?
A thriller! We’ll see what happens, but I’ve been dying to make one particular thriller for years now. Who knows though? So far, my “next project” has never been what I expected it to be!