Filmmaker Daniel Stine on Virginia Minnesota

Over the years, most of the films we’ve looked at and interviewed for have been shorts. For the first time, we’ve looked at a full-length film. Based around young girls who grew up at a halfway house meeting up for a reunion, we experience a story with forest thespians, Viking legends, and even a charming little robot! And they say there are only seven stories! We’ve interviewed the director to get a look at just what is going on.

What was the inspiration for the story of Virginia Minnesota?

There were two major elements that inspired Virginia Minnesota.  First was the location.  I have always drawn inspiration from interesting places, and when I visited the North Shore of Minnesota a few years back I knew I could tell a good story there. The beauty of the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth up to the Canadian border was striking, and the area has so much history and folklore that it was irresistible in a creative sense. The little towns along the coast were all interesting in their own way, and I wanted to use each one, if possible, to set a few scenes. The other piece of inspiration came from stories my grandparents told me about a home for boys from broken families that they managed many years ago.  The home itself was a mansion with an intriguing history of its own, but the things they shared with me about the young boys who were there were both sad and darkly humorous.  It was somewhat tragic that they had to be there, but the ways in which they dealt with the situation and their uncertain futures were touching and yet hopeful.  I often wondered what their lives must have been like in the years after they left that home and tried to make it on their own.

Also, what inspired the Minnesota setting? The Minnesota setting was a definite lock for this story as soon as I traveled up and down that Lake Superior shoreline. There is a forlorn, remote beauty and a long, rich history to the region that made me wonder why more films weren’t shot there. The Native American and Scandinavian myths naturally lent themselves to this story as you can see in the movie.

There’s a lot of magical realism in the movie, with supernatural seeming elements, such as the Wendigo, Viking legends, or even the forest actors, even if they do have mundane explanations; can you explain more about this?

I like a bit of mysticism in movies, and a touch of the fantastical is appealing to me, but I try not to overdo it.  I want the audience to be suspended in their own wonder, like Virginia was, but I also want to gently remind them of the true reality.  There is a serious story to be told, but by using magical realism elements, I could tie the legends into the memories of young Virginia and help Addison and Lyle recapture what they had lost. It was also fun and contributed to the theme of having an open mind, a sense of faith, and the courage to believe in things unseen.

I am a bit intrigued by Mister, the Wandering Robot; can you please explain more about him?

Mister was inspired partly from an actual “Hitchbot” that was made in Canada several years ago.  He was a bit of a social experiment to see what different people would do with him after being given instructions to drive him across the country –  passing him along as a hitchhiker. He made it across Canada just fine, but as soon as he entered the United States, he was torn apart and left on the side of the road! Anyway, I wanted to build upon that and develop a robot type that would be an interactive travel companion for Lyle, something she could take care of on her own lonesome journey. He’s a little futuristic, a little retro. He (and his stunt double) was fun to design.

Setting the story around the former ‘residents’ of a troubled girls home, we see many relationships between girls and women; can you delve more into the importance of showcasing this in the story?

I used some of the bits of stories from my grandparents, where they revealed some of the unique and often touching relationships between the boys in the home they managed.  I thought having the main characters in Virginia Minnesota be female somehow made more sense for this story – I can’t really explain why, as I never really thought of them as male or female – they just kind of came out the way they did on the page.  Addison and Lyle were just two people who shared a troubled past and had to keep their lives afloat in the aftermath of tragedy. Without giving too much away, we also see how characters react to the impact of death, even one that may have happened decades ago, can you explain more on this aspect of the story. The ways the characters dealt with death seemed reasonable to me in light of their circumstances.  Sadness and guilt were obvious byproducts for these young girls who survived into adulthood, but the escapism was also a part of it.  They didn’t have a nurturing family or support group following the tragedy, and they were forced to sort things out themselves. How well they were able to do that was questionable, but in the end, they were able to rediscover the truth, recapture a little of their lost innocence and focus on more positive memories and lessons of their time together as children. What inspired the animated opening? The animated opening didn’t happen until well into post-production. Throughout the movie, we see young Virginia’s drawings and references to the legends she loved, and I thought it was a great opportunity to bookend the film with a child’s perspective. Addison and Lyle were continuing Virginia’s odyssey in a way, and the legends they had heard as children were at the core of their own journey.  Late in the editing process, I decided to open and close with animated sequences to prepare and then remind the audience of the true heartbeat of the story.

What other projects are you working on in the near future?

I have a psychological thriller that I’m dying to make. The script has received very positive attention, and I hope to be filming that in the very near future. It is just one of three feature projects in the queue. 

Can I really go to Minnesota to see the acting troupes who live in the forest?

I can’t promise that you’ll find “The Terrificarium” troupe when you visit Minnesota, but if you venture deep enough into the forests of the North Shore, I’m certain you will feel the same sense of history and legend that I did. And if you believe as strongly as young Virginia, who knows what you’ll discover?

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