In the new movie Level 16, girls growing up in a mysterious facility are expected to learn proper "feminine virtues" or risk facing serious consequences from Miss Brixil and her strict staff, making escape to the outside world for some not only a desire, but a necessity to survive. With Level 16 out now in theaters and on VOD platforms from Dark Sky Films, we caught up with writer/director Danishka Esterhazy for our latest Q&A feature to discuss her new sci-fi horror film.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, and congratulations on Level 16! When and how did you come up with the idea for this film?
Danishka Esterhazy: I wrote the first draft of the script back in 2006—right after I graduated from film school in Toronto. I wanted to make science films and horror films. But when we tried to get Level 16 financed—we hit brick wall after brick wall. It has been a long journey from first draft to finally making the film.
While writing and directing Level 16, how much did societal issues such as female suppression impact your approach to telling this story?
Danishka Esterhazy: As a woman filmmaker, it is very important to me to tell stories about women from a woman’s point of view. So many films ignore half the population. I wanted to tell a universal story about oppression, economic exploitation, and the power of friendship, but with a strong female gaze.
Where did filming take place, and what was your shooting schedule for Level 16?
Danishka Esterhazy: I shot for 20 days in Toronto and Hamilton. It was not a long shoot. There are always challenges when you try to tell a big story with a small budget. But I had an amazing cast and an amazing producer, so we pulled it off.
Were you influenced or inspired by any other films, TV shows, or books while making Level 16?
Danishka Esterhazy: I had two main influences. First, the movie Logan’s Run, which, perhaps oddly, was one of my favorite films as a child. It was my introduction into the idea of dystopian stories and has always stayed with me. Second, the novel Jane Eyre. I love gothic novels, I love the Brontës. And the first part of Jane Eyre, which takes place in the Lowood Orphanage for Girls, has always haunted me.
You and Jonathan Oliveira assembled a great cast for this film, including Sara Canning as Miss Brixil. Did the cast get any extra time to rehearse together before shooting began, and did Canning stay away from the other cast members during filming to enhance her character’s intimidation level?
Danishka Esterhazy: Yes, Jonathan found an amazing group of actors. He knows how to spot talent.
Level 16 was my second feature with Sara Canning (we are currently shooting our third feature together in South Africa) and I wrote the part of Miss Brixil for her.
We did not have a lot of extra days for rehearsal—one of the drawbacks of low-budget filmmaking. But, I did rehearse with Sara and Peter Outerbridge. It was important to me that we explore the relationship between Brixil and Miro, that we shared an understanding of their backstory and motivations. It was a pleasure to work with two such experienced and intelligent actors!
The “girls” from Rose Hall did spend a lot of time together on set. And on the weekends! We didn’t isolate them from Sara by design, but the Vestalis “students” formed a pretty tight group quite naturally. They are all still friends, and I look forward to seeing their future work. I hope we have created a network of amazing young female talent.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
Danishka Esterhazy: The first time I watched the “girls” walk down the halls of Vestalis in their matching uniforms. It sent chills down my spine. I spent over 10 years imagining that scene. And when it finally happened, it was indescribable.
What do you hope viewers take away from Level 16?
Danishka Esterhazy: I hope the film will spark discussions about how we educate young women. How we still enforce rules of behavior that discourage independence, free thought, leadership, and bravery.
With Level 16 out now in theaters and on VOD platforms from Dark Sky Films, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about, and where can our readers follow your work online?
Danishka Esterhazy: I am currently shooting a new horror film inspired by the classic television series The Banana Splits. The film is being produced by Warner Bros. and Syfy and will be released by the end of this year.