The director of the theater department at the University of Mary is producing a new, period Western film to be shot in the North Dakota Badlands.
Daniel Bielinski is planning to shoot the film this summer in the long, rolling hills of the Badlands. This is his third North Dakota film, the other two, "The Good Father" and "You Crazy Blind Cripple," which he made with the support of other faculty members and students at the university.
“I feel like this is what our films in North Dakota have been building toward," Bielinski said.
With the script already written, Bielinski said he plans to shoot the film in July or August. Set in 1895, the film will convey a historic period Western and the beauty of the Badlands.
"The Badlands, of course, are considered by most to be the state's greatest treasure," said Bielinski, who has spent a lot of time in the national park, thinking, researching and visiting with some nearby ranchers, who may let him use their land to film.
"I think it's a good place to be creative," he said. "There's no shortage of beautiful places to shoot."
With no disrespect to the Coen brothers —filmmakers whom Bielinski greatly admires — the film is no "Fargo."
Bielinski came to North Dakota in 2015 by way of New York City, though he acknowledges his Midwestern roots, as he's originally from Wisconsin. He got his master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University.
He worked as an actor for a few years before getting the call to work at the University of Mary, located in a city and state which he said is "the polar opposite of New York City."
Around that time, his family started to grow — his youngest now a 5-month-old baby — as did his interest in making films in North Dakota.
“It’s a different canvas than New York City, but there has been some great opportunities for me as an artist here, and being an educator and having students and feeding off of their energy," he said.
There are few people making narrative films about North Dakota, and even fewer period Western films shot here, he said.
“I just felt like there was a hole that needed to be filled,” Bielinski said. “I felt like this was a great chance for (the University of Mary) to take the lead, in that respect, and I could bring the experience and the other faculty members here.”
The new film has gained support from North Dakota Tourism, the Medora Foundation and the State Historical Society of North Dakota, according to Bielinski.
University of Mary students will be involved in the making of this film. In the past, students have filled a variety of roles that include first and second assistant directors, prop director, art director and script supervisor, Bielinski said.
University faculty members will mentor students on staff, and Bielinski also plans to bring in professionals from New York City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Fargo.
Bielinski also teamed up with Belfield's auditor for an event and fundraiser next weekend to showcase his previous films and discuss his upcoming one.
Natalie Muruato, the city's auditor, who recently restored the old Belfield theater, said she agreed to the event, calling it a "Night of North Dakota Films."
"I wanted to use the facility to really showcase local talent and to help make people aware of the different art and culture that’s going on," said Muruato, adding the theater recently got new digital equipment to project the films onto a huge screen, as well as surround sound. The theater can seat as many as 250 people.
Muruato said she thinks the films will be hit in the local community. They recently showed the American western movie, "The Magnificent Seven" at the theater, which did "remarkably well," she said.
“There’s a lot of cowboys around here, and farmers and ranchers, who enjoy that kind of thing,” she said. “The landscape is almost prime for a Western film."
Bielinski said he plans to have the new film done by December, to be released next year in North Dakota and nationwide at film festivals.