Interview: Director Mark Rosengren Premieres ‘Lac du Flambeau’ at Midwest Independent Film Festival

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CHICAGO – A film’s world premiere is an auspicious occasion. This upcoming Tuesday, at the Midwest Independent Film Festival, marks the narrative film debut of director Mark Rosengren, with his film “Lac du Flambeau.” Produced by local talent in Chicago, the feature was shot primarily in Freeport, Illinois.

Mark Rosengren did his undergrad and graduate work in film through Columbia College and the Art Institute in the Windy City. His first full-length film was a documentary, “I Write on Stuff,” which combined his love for graffiti art with the battle between the city of Chicago and his fellow graffiti artists.

Mark Rosengren (blue tee-shirt) Directs Maury Cooper and Stephen Louis Grush in ‘Lac du Flambeau’
Mark Rosengren (blue tee-shirt) Directs Bob Breuler and Stephen Louis Grush in ‘Lac du Flambeau’
Photo credit:

“Lac du Flambeau” is Rosengren’s first narrative feature. If the title sounds familiar, it was inspired by the real Wisconsin lake, where the players in the film are journeying toward. The film takes place on several levels of existence and thought, as the character named Milk (Stephen Louis Grush) navigates through several troubling problems that plague his reality. The film has its world premiere at the Midwest Independent Film Festival on March 6th. The Festival is Chicago’s monthly cinema happening, meeting every first Tuesday throughout the year and highlighting the films and filmmakers of the Midwest region. spoke to Mark Rosengren via the phone, and he spoke of the his own journey to “Lac du Flambeau.” This is your debut narrative film. What was the process in your background that led you to be a filmmaker, and what was the catalyst that inspired this screenplay?

Mark Rosengren: Besides watching a ton of movies growing up, just for their entertainment value, I didn’t really begin to understand film as an art form until my second year of undergrad work. I was studying art and philosophy, and as part of that I took a film theory class. It examined films in at totally different way, and really opened my eyes, especially in seeing the art and craft of films. I knew I wanted to do stuff like that, and transferred to film school.

The screenplay began in a course at Columbia College, and I wanted to examine the thoughts and experience of being put into purgatory or limbo, after committing an act where you couldn’t turn back – what your mind would go through, what your reality would be. At the same time, not knowing whether if you were dead and alive, stuck in a repetitiveness of actions that keep unfolding. I also wanted to tell a love story in a style I hadn’t seen before, more non-linear and like a puzzle for the audience to put together. This is a category of film that is often called ‘micro-budget.’ What techniques and locations gave the film a richer look and context, and how did your cast and crew help to create an atmosphere that felt real to you as a filmmaker?

Rosengren: We were fortunate to get the location in Freeport, Illinois, where my mother had grown up. It’s a small industrial town that really embraced us, and gave us great access to colorful, rich environments to shoot in. We all stayed at my grandmother’s house, which became a community as the actors and crew came in for the shoot. It gave us a place to trust and know each other, so everyone ‘got’ the film, because we were all comfortable there. We also stayed within our budget, limiting any complex camera movements, and used a lens adapter to get a richer look. The title ‘Lac Du Flambeau’ refers to a destination in your film, which is a lake in Wisconsin. What was the origin of using that particular title as the basis for your screenplay, and why did that particular destination stick with you?

Rosengren: When I was writing the script I knew I wanted a fishing trip in a van. I wanted a realistic location to go to from Illinois to Wisconsin. I called a fisherman buddy of mine, and the first thing that came out of his mouth was ‘Lac du Flambeau.’ I loved the sound and the rhythm of the words. It loosely translates to “Lake of Fire,” which was right with the theme of my movie. Your characters have unusual names – Milk, Horse, Aura, Chunk – how do these particular names play into your overall concept and how did it help the actors find their characters?

Rosengren: I wanted to create unique names, and it’s much easier for guys to nickname each other, so Milk was named for his milkshake obsession and he’s also a passive character that life takes advantage of, not an aggressive guy. Horse is a strong name, that I thought was good for a friend. Aura was tougher to come up with, and I wanted to give her a memorable name. She is a beautiful and unattainable woman, so I gave her a name that would be a positive energy. I wrote character biographies for the actors, so I did give them more of an idea who they were beyond the names.

Searching for Truth in ‘Lac du Flambeau’
Fishing for the Truth in ‘Lac du Flambeau’
Photo credit: How would you describe your style in regards to the relationship with the actor. Are you hands-on as far as desiring a particular performance, or do you want the actor to do the primary character development, and let them go?

Rosengren: I think of it as a collaboration between the two of us, that’s how I like to work. The actor has to embody the character, and they might know something that is even better than what I came up with – so I set the scene, set the mood, know what the dialogue means and where the emphasis is, and then let them develop it as well. Let them play it out how they think the character would approach it, rather than me saying it should be exactly like the script. The film works in different levels of reality. What was your inspiration in exploring those different levels, and why is it important for your main character Milk?

Rosengren: This is sort of going on in Milk’s mind, firing around in memories and faux memories. He’s learning what he needs to learn to go onto the next step, and so he shoots back-and-forth, but it’s always a forward progression. It’s important for Milk because he is being guided through his journey, and it all exists to lead him to where he needs to go. We see the character of Milk with friends, lovers, psycho-therapists, even children, each contributing to his overall concept of his truth. In what relationship, in your opinion, do we find the most truth? Where do you think Milk most finds his truth?

Rosengren: He finds it in two places. When he’s on the riverbank with the fisherman, who is his guide and catalyst, who gives him the nudges along the way for finding the truth. He also finds it on the playground with the little girl, where he finally understands his role and is able to achieve forgiveness. You did a previous documentary about graffiti art in Chicago called, ‘I Write on Stuff.’ In this exploration of the city’s effort to erase this form of street art versus the artist themselves, what personal conclusions did you learn and get out of it?

Rosengren: It was my first feature, and it was a documentary versus a narrative film, but I learned a lot about production and how to make a film. It was a four year journey, because I was part of that graffiti community which emerged in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. It was a vibrant, exciting community, and when the city took that away, assigning felonies and ‘Graffiti Blasters,’ I was really sad about the loss. I made the documentary to capture what was left, get the opinions about the scene and expose the interesting characters from the community. Would you recommend doing a documentary as a film feature as opposed to a narrative film?

Rosengren: Only if you’re really passionate about your subject. It’s a trial, that was four years of my life and it really spent me. But the final product is great, and will be available on my website as a free download soon [information below]. What directors influence you, and did you honor any of them in shooting ‘Lac du Flambeau’?

Rosengren: Not intentionally, but when I was writing the script I was definitely honoring David Lynch, with his unapologetic plot lines, characters and moods that create a film, as opposed to the story being the only thing that drives it. I also like John Sayles, in his character development and dialogue. He inspired me to polish my characters and make the dialogue as believable as possible. And finally Akira Kurosawa and his film ‘Rashomon,’ that was an influence through his exploration of the relativity of truth.

The world premiere of “Lac du Flambeau” will take place at the Midwest Independent Film Festival on Tuesday, March 6th at 6pm, located at the Landmark Cinema, 2828 N. Clark in Chicago. Click here for information and tickets. Featuring Stephen Louis Grush, Juan Villa, Erin Breen, Warren Levon, Robert Brueler, Mike McNamara and Mary Kay Cook. Written and directed by Mark McNess Rosengren. Not rated. Click here for Mark Rosengren’s ‘standing passengers’ website. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

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