Ef­fort to make Mad Ship film needed sin­gu­lar de­ter­mi­na­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

THE film Mad Ship de­picts one man’s quixotic ef­fort to build a boat and drag it over the prairie in a crazed, delu­sional ef­fort to trans­port his fam­ily back to Nor­way from the bar­ren de­spair of the Prairies dur­ing the Dust Bowl years.

If the events de­picted in the film seem strange and ob­ses­sive, the ef­fort to make the film re­quired an equal amount of sin­gu­lar de­ter­mi­na­tion from On­tario-based co-writer-di­rec­tor David Mortin.

Part­nered with his wife Pa­tri­cia Fogliato of their com­pany Enig­matico Films, Mortin says he was in­spired by the true story of Tom Suka­nen, a Fin­nish im­mi­grant who, in the depths of his own per­sonal de­spair, con­structed a ship that would sail back to Fin­land from the crush­ing de­spair of the Dust Bowl in the Macrorie district of Saskatchewan.

“He was in­spired to try build a ship and drag it to the Saskatchewan River think­ing he would fol­low that route out to Hud­son Bay and sail it back to Fin­land,” Mortin says in a phone in­ter­view from his home out­side Toronto.

“So he built his boat in three sec­tions and he ac­tu­ally built an iron hull and he started drag­ging them over years 27 kilo­me­tres from his farm to the river,” Mortin says. “He ended up work­ing him­self al­most to the point of fa­tal ex­haus­tion and his neigh­bours came and found him out there in the mid­dle of the prairie by one of the pieces of his boat and they col­lected him and took him to the asy­lum where he was com­mit­ted. He died in the asy­lum about 18 months af­ter that. But his story has gone on and he’s be­come some­thing of a folk hero through­out the Prairies.”

Mortin’s take on the story, though like­wise gloomy, is not as hope­less.

“We asked our­selves: What would cause a man to be in that sit­u­a­tion?” he says. “We worked back­wards from there and cre­ated a story that had to do more with heart. He’s there for love and to try to make amends for a mis­take he made, or a prom­ise he had bro­ken, to atone and try to rec­tify some­thing.

“All those things, we found, were a lot more emo­tion­ally ac­ces­si­ble and uni­ver­sally ac­ces­si­ble than the real story of this man from Fin­land who was truly do­ing it out of mad­ness.”

The ef­fort to get the film made might have re­sulted in an equally doomed ef­fort. It be­gan that way when Mortin tried to get the film made in Saskatchewan. But af­ter shift­ing to Man­i­toba and part­ner­ing with lo­cal pro­duc­tion com­pany Buf­falo Gal Pic­tures, the film be­came a re­al­ity, although it was a chal­lenge find­ing a lo­ca­tion that could sug­gest a Dust Bowl farm of the Dirty ’30s.

“Pa­tri­cia and I came out west think­ing it would be really easy to find what we needed, and we had in mind a very spe­cific idea of a clean hori­zon line and a very pure prairie with­out any sort of vis­i­ble struc­tures or tree shel­ters or that sort of thing,” he says.

“It took us a long time to find that. But we went out to the Ro­seisle area (100 km south­west of Win­nipeg) and we knew we had found some­thing spe­cial,” he says. “That lo­ca­tion gave us a 270-de­gree view and that gave us a lot of the op­por­tu­ni­ties we were look­ing for.”

The film stars Dan­ish ac­tor Niko­laj Lie Kaas as the crazed pa­tri­arch and Nor­we­gian ac­tress Line Vern­dal as his wife. If the film’s story was bleak, the mood on the set was pre­cisely the op­po­site, Mortin says.

“They’re both really open and funlov­ing peo­ple and though this is a dark and sad film, they kept it very light on set,” Mortin says. And all the Man­i­toba crew were also in­cred­i­bly warm and friendly with them.”

In a large bowl, cream to­gether but­ter and 250 ml (1 cup) ic­ing sugar un­til light and fluffy. Stir in the egg. Sift to­gether flour and corn­starch and add to the creamed mix­ture. Stir in the nuts. Wrap the dough in wax pa­per and chill for at least 4 hours.

Pre­heat oven to 160C (325F). On a floured sur­face, roll dough out 5 mm (¼ in) thick, cut out shapes with cookie cut­ters and place on lightly oiled cookie sheets. Bake for 12-15 min­utes or un­til lightly browned. While cook­ies are bak­ing, heat jam with or­ange juice in mi­crowave at low heat un­til mixed and melted. Cool cook­ies on sheets for a few min­utes, then re­move to wire racks with wax pa­per un­der­neath for easy cleanup. While cook­ies are still warm, lightly brush with jam mix­ture, then sprin­kle with some of the re­main­ing ic­ing sugar. Sprin­kle again when cool. Yields about 7 dozen.

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