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Winnipeg costume designer says Manitoba consultants shared Mennonite culture for Best Picture nominee

Left to right, actors Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey and Claire Foy and director Sarah Polley talk on the set of their film 'Women Talking' in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Michael Gibson

Film buffs the world over are already looking forward to March’s 95th Academy Awards, but some Manitobans will be paying special attention to one of the nominees.

Women Talking, up for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay honours, is a drama written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley, adapted from the novel by Steinbach, Man., author Miriam Toews.

The local connections don’t end at the source material, however. Costume designer Quita Alfred — herself a Winnipegger — took a deep dive into Manitoba Mennonite history to come up with the film’s distinctive, authentic look.

“My work was made much easier by a lot of local people here in Manitoba,” Alfred told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg.

“I was put in contact with a consultant in Winkler, Manitoba — a Mennonite consultant — who opened the doors to me to the culture and to the people I needed to get in contact with to make sure these costumes were going to be authentic to the Russian Mennonite plain dress.

“I was given access to vendors and to processes and to histories that I would otherwise never have been able to access, so I’m thankful for that.”

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The film — inspired by real-life events at a Mennonite colony named after the province of Manitoba in Bolivia — focuses on Mennonite women discovering that men in their community have been committing sexual assaults for years.

Alfred, who has worked in film and TV for more than three decades, said she knew Women Talking was going to be something special when she first saw Polley’s script.

“I knew that when I read Sarah’s script immediately. The beauty of the adaptation and the power of Miriam’s novel…. From my first reading I thought this is not like the others,” she said.

“I’m so, so pleased to see Sarah recognized and Miriam recognized … and for everybody involved.

“I’ve worked on many big pictures in the past but to be this close to all the excitement is new for sure.”

Click to play video: '2023 Oscar nominations'
2023 Oscar nominations

 

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