'Winter' is coming: A feature filmed in the Northland gets its Minnesota premier during Duluth-Superior Film Festival

Annika has left the party. Things got heavy, beyond her box. The monied and mannered hostess had cornered her for a few-wines-deep monologue about youth. Mark, the older mismatched man she is drawn to, just presented a poem to a room full of sail...

"In Winter," by Alexander Gutterman and Aboubacar Camera, opens with a slow-boil shot: Annika, played by Nora Targonski O'Brien wanders through a snowy, industrial scene. Photo from
"In Winter," by Alexander Gutterman and Aboubacar Camera, opens with a slow-boil shot: Annika, played by Nora Targonski O'Brien wanders through a snowy, industrial scene. Photo from

Annika has left the party. Things got heavy, beyond her box. The monied and mannered hostess had cornered her for a few-wines-deep monologue about youth. Mark, the older mismatched man she is drawn to, just presented a poem to a room full of sailing aficionados.

So she took his car, found a party on the shore and joined the winter bonfire - still in her black cocktail dress and heels, blurry, uncertain. Her love life has gone off-script.

She tosses a single shoe into Lake Superior.

The day after filming the scene on a cold, cold winter night, actor Nora Targonski O'Brien, who plays Annika, told the News Tribune that she said to the filmmakers: "We're going to get a master shot if I lose a toe."

Five years later, in a phone interview from her home at an artist's cooperative in the Lowertown neighborhood of St. Paul, O'Brien talked about the pulley system that led her from Lake Superior's snowy shore back to the warmth of a house. She didn't lose a toe, per se, but she does have a long-lasting reminder of the shoot.


"I still don't have feeling in my center left toe," O'Brien said, still: "It ended up being a more telling moment (in the film) than we knew at the time."

The movie, "In Winter," by Alexander Gutterman and Aboubacar M. Camera, plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Teatro Zuccone as part of Duluth-Superior Film Festival. The festival runs through Sunday and includes free screenings of feature-length films and shorts, a script reading, music and more in Duluth and Cook.

'In Winter'

"In Winter" is the story of Annika, who is kind of stuck: she works at a small town laundromat and cares for her sick grandfather. She's a little bored, a little feral. She spends her time in states of waiting: smoking, flipping through books, browsing the pet store, lying in a bathtub. Mark is older with more life experience. His marriage is stalled, but he still wears the ring.

They meet at the laundromat. He can't decide which of the stale vending machine fare he should spend his coins on. She recommends Mike & Ikes - they look like pills, she tells him. He opts for a box of Good & Plenty, tries one, then makes a sour face.

A few scenes later, they've consummated the connection.

The story is based on a relationship that Gutterman had almost a decade ago while living in Vermont, he said.

"I had an experience of getting involved with a rather spontaneous and damaged and pretty profound young woman," he said. "It was a humbling and deepening experience."


When he moved to Minnesota to be closer to his children, inspired by the landscape, the story grew.

"The vastness, the industrial scenes - that was the irritant that the oyster (made) the pearl around, the emotional kernel of 'In Winter,'" he said.

The movie is a series of vignettes with much left open to interpretation: Annika wanders aimless in the snow, Annika has a coded conversation with a priest, Mark shows a server his compass, Mark has a metaphor-laden conversation with the priest, Annika folds clothes.

Then, with no more foreplay than a back-and-forth about candy, Mark and Annika fall into a hot-and-heavy liplock. Technically, it's an error that we don't see the mismatched couple connecting at least one more time before falling into bed, Gutterman said. But it's on brand with style of the narrative.

Gutterman describes the movie as "dreamlike" and considers it an homage to Ingmar Bergman.

"We started to edit in a way that would leave our viewers like they were reaching for something they couldn't grasp," he said. "Our cuts move you in and out in specific ways. If you don't pay attention, you'll miss critical bits of information."

Five years later

O'Brien, who hadn't been part of a feature film until "In Winter," was drawn to the role of Annika because she is raw and real - something that is trending in films now, but wasn't five years ago, she said.


"I love that it's an honest look at a female," O'Brien said. "It's so clear and true and someone you'd know. Not just some beautiful young ingenue."

O'Brien said she was challenged by and afraid of the role when she was presented with it. When filming began, she developed a connection with the character. It was a dark time, O'Brien said, of understanding objectification and being held back by circumstances. Now, five years later, she sees Annika as a vulnerable young woman.

"I feel this empathy," she said. "I feel concerned for her. It's a bit difficult to watch."

O'Brien is involved with Gutterman's next film, "The Hunter," but is more focused on her music - she's released three albums with her band Hot Date in the past five years.

At one screening, Gutterman recalled, an audience member asked "Where is the redemption?"

"I just looked at her and shrugged," he said. "I said 'There is no redemption. Beauty itself is redemptive.'"

Gutterman said he hasn't connected with his muse, who he mentions in the credits but described as "socially off the grid."

"In Winter" has played at events ranging from Interrobang Film Festival in Des Moines to Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema in New York City. From Flyway Film Festival in Pepin, Wis., to AAB International Film Festival in Punjab, India.

The Duluth-Superior Film Festival is its first showing in Minnesota.

"It feels like a completion to bring it here," Gutterman said.

= = =

TODAY 6:30 p.m.: “Living the Change,” Zinema 2: This documentary considers the lives of people living in sustainable and regenerative ways.

7 p.m. “The Way North,” Teatro Zuccone: 71 years after Norm Midthun flew Prince Olav on his post-war victory tour, his family returns to Norway to retrace his steps.

8 p.m.: “The Duluth CW Presents: Night at the Armory,” Zinema 2: Keith Hopkins and Jeanne Filkins created a five-part music series set in a recently untapped venue - the Duluth Armory. The series, shot like a documentary, first aired on Duluth’s CW.

9 p.m.: “Gleahan and The Knaves of Industry,” Teatro Zuccone: This film by Samuel T. Weston is a low-budget comedy filmed in local venues with local actors. Mark (played by Kent Dean), is just trying to deal some drugs but he ends up partnering with Gleahan of Eastvale, a local costume-wearing, sword-wielding character.

9 p.m.: Ellipsis Presents FEmn Fest Special, Blacklist Artisan Ales - music by Jerree Small, Sarah Krueger, Amy Hzl & Her Magic Band

9:15 p.m.: IPR Shorts Program: Films by students from the IPR College of Creative Arts’ Digital Video and Media Production Program

FRIDAY 6 p.m.: “Birth of a Family,” AICHO: Four siblings were among the 20,000 indigenous children taken from their homes and adopted by other families during the Sixties Scoop. Now, years later, they consider their different upbringings and shared stories.  

6 p.m.: Regional Shorts 2, Teatro Zuccone: Documentaries by regional filmmakers, including “Gaelynn Lea: The Songs We Sing,” about the local fiddle-teacher-turned-world-touring musician, “Saul’s 108th Story,” the story of a teenager’s first, super-daunting job on the 108th story of the Empire State Building by Joshua Carlon, “Kinderchomper,” about local wrestler Joe Klander by local filmmaker Mike Scholtz.

7 p.m.: “Damsel,” Zinema 2: It’s the Minnesota premiere of this film about an affluent pioneer traveling the Wild Wild West to marry his love. Stars Robert Pattinson.

7:30 p.m.: “In Winter” Alexander Gutterman’s movie about mismatched lovers set in a cold, cold, northern Minnesota winter.

8 p.m.: “Dodging Bullets,” AICHO: This documentary, which is directed by Kathy Broere, Sarah Edstrom, Jonathan Thunder and Bob Trench, is about the impact of historical trauma on the lives of Native Americans.

9:15 p.m.: “Phantom Cowboys,” Zinema 2: The nine-year study of three boys coming of age in rural America.

SATURDAY Noon: “Film Fatales” panel discussion: Female directors of feature films talk about the filmmaking process, Teatro Zuccone.

1 p.m.: Regional Shorts 1 Program, Zinema 2: In Matthew Dressel’s “Just Coffee,” a customer with an endless thirst for coffee gets to the cafe early and stays late - really rankling the manager on duty; In “Rag Dolls,” by Justin Schaack and Kristin Schaack, a kiddo wanders to the back of an antique shop and finds ragdolls in a chest. As she manipulates them, they come to life - performing cartwheels, splits and loose-limbed dances.

3 p.m.: “Risking Light,” Zinema 2: This is a look at survivors as they more from grief to compassion to forgiveness.

4 p.m.: “Red Betty and the Murder Farm” script reading, Teatro Zuccone: Billed as “bloody battles and B-movie ridiculousness.”

5 p.m.: “Time For Ilhan,” Zinema 2: The story of Ilhan Omar, the first Somali Muslim woman to be elected to state office in America.

5:30 p.m.: Saltless Sea Cinema Program, Teatro Zuccone: This Duluth-based series considers avante-garde, underground and experimental films. Screening includes pieces by Allen Killian-Moore, Catherine Meier and more.

7 p.m.: “Silicone Soul,” Zinema 2: This documentary looks at the relationships forged with synthetic companions.

7 p.m.: Midnight Movies at 7 presents “Feeders”

SUNDAY 1 p.m.: EDU Showcase, Zinema 2: Combines students and industry professionals

3 p.m.: “A Work in Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey),” Zinema 2: A look at the life of Al Milgrom, a documentarian, traveler and pioneer of cinema.

7 p.m.: “Cold November,” The Comet Theater in Cook: This film, by Karl Jacob, is about a young woman coming of age during hunting season in rural Minnesota.

Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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