Williams on Milgaard

Shooting Milgaard in Winnipeg, where much of the prison saga of wrongfully convicted teenager David Milgaard actually unfolded, made for 'an intensely creative experience,' says director Stephen Williams....

Shooting Milgaard in Winnipeg, where much of the prison saga of wrongfully convicted teenager David Milgaard actually unfolded, made for ‘an intensely creative experience,’ says director Stephen Williams.

New layers were continually being added to the script as the coproducers – Laszlo Barna of Toronto’s Barna-Alper Productions, Ritchard Findlay of Winnipeg’s Marble Island Pictures and Martin Harbury of Toronto-based Bar Harbour Films – and writers Keith Ross Leckie and Alan DiFiore worked among the people who knew Milgaard and were familiar with the case.

‘We went to Winnipeg with a working script and met with Joyce and David Milgaard, the lawyers and the many people in the city who knew the family. Everyone had a different opinion or put a different spin on the events, and we learned so many things we didn’t know,’ explains Williams.

While shooting in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary outside Winnipeg where Milgaard was held, the team heard numerous accounts from prisoners and guards who had spent time with Milgaard.

‘All these experiences continued to inform the writing process throughout the shoot – the script was always changing because we felt obliged to add to the story as we went along. The writers, producers and I would go out to dinner and talk to people, ask questions, and we would literally write it all down at the dinner table, and run back to the hotel to find ways to add these layers to the script.’

‘It was an incredible immersion. I can’t imagine making that film anywhere other than Winnipeg.’

It was also a very collaborative effort on the part of the producers; dop David Frazee, whom Williams cites as ‘instrumental’ in making the film; Leckie and DiFiore, who penned the script with the assistance of Milgaard and his mother; and Bill Mustos and Tekka Crosbie at ctv, the broadcaster behind the project.

Williams says he initially agreed to take on the movie because of the compelling nature of the subject matter and the parallel stories contained within the script – on one level, the story of the falsely accused young man sent to prison for 23 years, on another, the inspiring story of a mother’s courage against daunting odds.

‘I was very much interested in the power relations operating in the story and the fact that the more David protested his innocence the worse his situation became,’ says Wiliams. ‘It struck me as very Kafkaesque.’

Williams, who is based in Toronto, began his directing career in features with Soul Survivor, which opened Critics Week at Cannes in 1995 and traveled the international festival circuit. He has directed for numerous tv series, including The City, Traders, Cold Squad, Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Psi Factor. His mow experience includes several Showtime movies such as The Undead Express, for which he received an Emmy nomination.

Williams is now going to camera on the Alliance Atlantis mow Harry’s Case for cbc, and then plans to return to developing his own feature film projects.

Cheryl Binning