Dan Bielinski – “William”
Award-Winning Filmmaker
Director, University of Mary Theater Department

BISMARCK, ND—It became a defining moment for award-winning filmmaker Dan Bielinski. In the spring of 2015, just a few months after becoming University of Mary’s theater director, Bielinski loaded up the car with his entire family for a short vacation that led them west from Bismarck to the Badlands.

“Suddenly, there were canyons everywhere,” recalls Bielinski of the moment he first set eyes on the majestic North Dakota Badlands. Since that moment “I’ve been thinking of a western film.”

Twenty months later, Bielinski began to write and eventually produce what has become the first period western film made in the North Dakota Badlands. It’s called The Badlands Girl, a 20-minute short film that will make its world premiere Wednesday, February 28 and March 1, 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., at Bismarck’s Grand Theatres. The movie will also be screened in the newly renovated Belfield Theater, Friday, March 2 at 7 p.m.

“North Dakota is the perfect place to shoot a western,” remarked Bielinski. “You can’t beat the Badlands for scenery and there’s a huge amount of western culture engrained here in North Dakota.”

Erin Neufer – “Maggie”
Neufer spent her formative years in Tokyo, Japan before moving to Indiana and then New
York, where she currently resides. She earned her master’s degree at the NYU Graduate Acting

Bielinksi found that out firsthand. He spent many hours, days and weeks with the generous and welcoming locals and ranchers to learn about the culture that would eventually inspire the narrative for his short film: Fade in to 1895 North Dakota. Against the backdrop of the Badlands, a rugged frontier woman, Maggie (Erin Neufer), is caught between two lovers—the gentle rancher William (Bielinski) and the reckless cowboy Jacob (Kyle Vincent Terry). But when a band of outlaws descend on the ranch, she has to take up arms to fight for the man she truly loves. Tickets for the premiere of The Badlands Girl are $10 and can be purchased online at badlandsgirlmovie.com.

The North Dakota Badlands lends itself to moviemaking and deep serenity, according to Bielinski. “When I was writing the film, I would go there and just sit on top of a butte and do my writing,” added the film artist. “There’s something beautiful about making a film that really embraces the place and the culture of where it’s made. I feel like this western film is very much a North Dakota film.”

Kyle Vincent Terry – “Jacob”
Terry is Chicago born and bred. Recent credits include Gotham (FOX), SMILF (Showtime), Bull (CBS). Recent theatre credits include Othello (New York Theatre Workshop).

A North Dakota film through and through as Bielinski also spent many months securing sponsors such as the University of Mary, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, the State Historical Society, in addition to donations from people and businesses who supported the project financially contributing through guns, horses, food, transportation and lodging. As is the case with all of Bielinski’s films, he makes them a hands-on learning experience for his theater and communications students at the University of Mary who wish to work behind the scenes with Bielinski and all the professional actors and crew he brings in from Los Angeles, New York and Minneapolis.

Gracie Burns, a University of Mary graduate student studying education who has participated frequently in University of Mary theater, made the most of her position as a key set production assistant for the film.

“It was really cool working with all these professionals who do this for a living,” Burns said, during an interview with the Bismarck Tribune. “It’s a great opportunity for students.”

Gracie Burns, University of Mary graduate student, and University of Mary Theater Director Dan Bielinski are interviewed by Bismarck Tribune reporter Blair Emerson at the Grand Theatres in Bismarck

According to Bielinski, there is little to no professional narrative filmmaking in central and western North Dakota. In fact, it’s the only state in the union that does not have a film commission or any tax incentives for filmmakers. “By producing high-quality films in North Dakota, we hope to demonstrate that there is great potential and talent here that needs to be nurtured into a real industry,” stated Bielinski. “And we hope that filmmakers across the country will also begin to recognize that same talent and potential.”

That’s one of the reasons why Bielinski spent six months looking for statewide financial support and is thankful for John and Jennifer Hanson providing their Logging Camp Ranch, 45 minutes south of Medora, with its unique abundance of Ponderosa pines and rugged terrain, that provided a natural canvas for Bielinski’s artistry.

A scene from The Badlands Girl shot at the Logging Camp Ranch south of Medora

“All the funds that went to make this film came from North Dakotans, which is a tribute to the people of this great state, their support of filmmaking and their love for the land and its people,” said Bielinski. “And it’s been a privilege getting to know them and their way of life. I got to be a part of my first cattle branding. That was eye-opening.”

Bielinski is a Wisconsin native who turned to acting, writing and film producing while earning his M.F.A. from Columbia University in New York City. Little did he realize that one family vacation to the western part of the state in 2015 would lead to his making of three short films set in North Dakota: a thriller The Good Father, filmed in Bismarck; the romantic comedy You Beautiful Crazy Blind Cripple, shot in New Salem; and now The Badlands Girl. All of these productions, including plans to shoot an expanded feature-length western film this summer, have not only validated Bielinski’s vision for moviemaking in North Dakota, but have also ushered him into a lead role as one of the state’s biggest ambassadors for his new home.