Movie Review: Sanctified Sheds Light on North Dakota History – Fargo Monthly Magazine | Episode Movies

Daniel Bielinski’s latest film is a western crowd pleaser, North Dakota pride notwithstanding

North Dakotans are proud of their state and its history. So our interest was greatest when we heard about a film that was being filmed and set in North Dakota. Sanctified, a 2022 film directed by filmmaker Daniel Bielinski, is a Western with strong Christian elements that offers an exciting ride!

Along with the rest of the Spotlight editorial team, I attended the film’s Fargo premiere at the Fargo Theater as well as a post-premiere Q&A session with a select portion of the cast and crew. Learn more about the making of the film and its key takeaways in this spoiler-free review!

The plot (without giving too much away)

In the late 1700s, an outlaw (Weston) seeks to steal his share of the money, break away from the bandit lifestyle he was a part of, and start a new life. However, he doesn’t make it too far before those he was once associated with catch on to his plan and punish him for going against their way of life and order. Weston, hanging by a thread, is beaten, battered and on the brink of death.

Carl Swanson (as Emmett) and Daniel Bielinski (as Weston) were both present at the Q&A after the premiere and ready to answer any questions from the audience.

Canticle Productions Faith Based Films

Canticle Productions is a North Dakota-based film and theater production company that frequently incorporates faith and the Spirit into films. “Sanctified” is no different, as the film touches on faith and sacrifice with religious overtones.

However, he is soon met by a nun (Sister Hildegard) who is traveling through the Badlands. She nurses him back to health in exchange for him guiding her to a church in Williston. A deep friendship develops between these two unlikely people as they learn to work together to survive their perilous journey while forcing him to question his belief in Christianity. As they travel across the state together, they face a variety of threats and allies.

The tension is in full effect as Sister Hildegard (Tiffany Cornwell) threatens Weston (Daniel Bielinski) and warns him to stay away from the mysterious box she is carrying.

The way to the premiere

Although the film’s vision had been mapped out years before its release, it took much longer than expected to bring the film to life on the big screen. Bielinski penned a first draft of the film’s script back in 2018, aptly titled Wes & Hilde.

After showing the script to the film’s director, Nickolaus Swedlund, they worked together on new ideas and rewrites until they had the final product we know today.

Before the filmmakers could begin filming, however, the small production company needed a Kickstarter campaign in early 2020 to raise a production budget. Soon after, work on the film had to be halted, like production on every other film in the industry, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

With protocols in place to ensure the safety of cast and crew when filming during a pandemic, work soon began to complete the ambitious project in the West. Once the project got underway, it was filmed, edited and completed with far fewer obstacles and roadblocks. The film is now in its premiere phase and will be shown in theaters across North Dakota and at the Twin Cities Film Festival.

“For me, the special effects were the most impressive part of the film. There’s a very strong near-death scene at the beginning of the film that felt very real to me.”

-Brady Drake

The takeaways

In a brisk 90 minutes, Daniel Bielinski’s (Outlaw Weston) and Tiffany Cornwell’s (Sister Hildegard) collaborative chemistry delivered an entertaining performance and held the audience’s attention. Sister Hildegard questions Weston’s faith as she journeys through the film, leaving Christian elements at the forefront of the film and critical to the plot.

The core of the film is about a nun and an outlaw on a road trip together. The film often sees the characters making fun of each other, balancing the film’s dark nature with a light-hearted relationship between the two leads. While this banter provoked many laughs from the audience, it kept the pace somewhat uncertain throughout the film, as it often went from a casual joke to an intense scene in a matter of moments, or sometimes even simultaneously. These confounding moments were kept brief, however, as the narrative was pushed along during the film’s short runtime.

While Sanctified is a straightforward storyline on the surface, it offers no shortage of twists and turns as the narrative expands beyond a simple Western storyline. The film begins as a simple story of a man (Weston) searching for freedom from his group and a new life. However, what turns out to be a tale of unexpected friendship, betrayal and more.

As the film drew to a close, audiences were greeted with a somber but satisfying ending. While it might not have been the ending everyone was hoping (or expecting) for, it was in fact a fitting one that brought more satisfaction than confusion or disappointment. As the lights came on, the cast, crew and credits were greeted with applause from the audience as they discussed acting, cinematography and other aspects of the feature film.

“I liked the storytelling aspect of the film, especially the little attention to detail. At times the pacing felt a bit slow but overall I enjoyed the show! Fun to see a historical part of our state narrated through this story!”

-Geneva Nordland

Above all, one of the outstanding aspects of the film is the stunning cinematography from start to finish. The beauty of North Dakota is on full display as the story’s backdrop. Proud to have been filming near Medora and the Badlands, the cast and crew, present during a post-premier Q&A session, detailed the beauty of the setting during filming.

“As a photographer who works a lot with lighting and color, the color grading really enhanced the drama of this film and made it feel more passionate and authentic overall – an exceptional job by the Sanctified film crew.”

– Josiah Kopp

The questions and answers after the premiere

Following the film’s Fargo premiere, actors Carl Swanson (Emmett), Daniel Bielinski (Weston) and Allan Demaray (Little Hawk) emerged from the crowd to answer questions and offer behind-the-scenes details to get the audience into the magic of the film was required to bring the image to life. Read a sample of the audience questions and answers below to learn more about the making of the film!

Did you base the plot on a specific story? What was your motivation for making the film?

“This is considered a historical feature film, so it’s set in a real place and time, but the characters are all completely fictitious. I thought it would be great fun to send a nun and an outlaw on a road trip together.” – Daniel Bielineski

Were there any problems during production?

“It was fascinating because we were in the middle of nowhere. We had a camp called Badlands Ministries that we stayed at as a kind of “home base”. Luckily all the locations we shot were pretty close because it was a hassle getting all the people, horses, carts, lights and cameras there.” – Karl Swanson

“We were very fortunate to have excellent weather, except for about a week before filming when it snowed for two days. It was an absolute blizzard just before we started filming, but luckily it melted in time. For the most part, the production ran smoothly with no major glitches.” – Daniel Bielineski

Where did you shoot most of the film?

“Badlands Ministries Bible Camp is about 10 minutes south of Medora. We also shot at a rancher about 20 minutes south of Medora. We tried to keep it fairly limited to this area, with the exception of the church. The church was actually a school building, which we decorated in production and post-production to look like a church. That was about 45 minutes north between Medora and Watford City.” – Daniel Bielineski

What are your next plans with Sanctified?

“From now on, the film will continue its career in North Dakota. We launched in Bismarck on September 30th and October 1st, and the duration has just been extended for another two weeks. It did really well at the Grand Theaters in Bismarck. We played at Belfield and Watford City. We’re going to Minot, Grand Forks and Williston at the end of the month as well as Medora and the Twin Cities Film Festival. It’s also playing in a number of cinemas, which you can see at sanctifiedfilm.com. There are about 25 theaters showing the film in North and South Dakota. By the end of the year, the goal is to sign deals with distributors and distributors to bring it to streaming platforms like Amazon and Hulu, so people can see it not just in North Dakota, but on streaming platforms around the world .” – Daniel Bielineski

For more information on upcoming seasons and where to see the film next, keep an eye on sanctifiedfilm.com for the latest updates.

Network: sanktifiedfilm.com
Facebook: @heiligerfilm
Instagram: @heiligerfilm

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