Exclusive – Danishka Esterhazey Brings LEVEL 16 to VIFF

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all, I turn on the news to realize I’ve only caught a glimpse. There are activities and illegal crimes that go on around the world under the cloak of secrecy. This is what they call the underground, the dark web and the black market. Atrocities that will make you cringe and question how and why these crimes can go undetected and unsolved.


Films have always been a great platform to breath life back into subjects, past events or situations that have gone unresolved and unfixed. Being able to wield that sword of light that reminds us of unsolved crimes or cruelties that happen under the nose of government and the radar of the authorities is an achievement in itself. The message has to be clear and powerful enough to stay in your thoughts long after the credits stop rolling. Danishka Esterhazey, has accomplished that in her film LEVEL 16. She has not only brought young kidnappings and grooming to the forefront but she has also entwined the importance of a best friend to confide and trust in.


Celebrated for her female driven stories, she is a graduate of the Directors’ Lab at the Canadian Film Centre, the Talent Lab at the Toronto International Film Festival and the National Screen Institute. Her debut feature, BLACK FIELD, won the Best Feature Drama award at Vancouver’s Women in Film Festival and the Best Canadian Feature award at Toronto’s Female Eye Film Festival. I caught up with her in Austin at the Fantasy Film Festival. She loves science fiction and would love to do more of it.


“Where did you find the cast for this film?”

“Two of the actors are from Vancouver, the teacher (Sara Canning) and student (Celina Martin). The lead Katie Douglas lives in Toronto. I had so much help from Markham Street Films for the crew and the remainder of the cast. I originally had my two leads but that changed due to rescheduling.”


“How long did it take to shoot the film?”

“There was two months of pre-production followed by shooting for 20 days at a retired police training center built in the 1940’s outside Toronto.”


“Where did the inspiration for the film come from?”

“My father was born in Belarus where kidnappings are common. I enjoy sci-fi and combined the two to write the screenplay.”  


Danishka has definitely had an impact on the female filmmaker. In fact she was shadowed on set by two young female filmmakers.

“It’s great to see more female writer/directors leveling the paying field, do you feel that the times are changing?”

“I do, I feel that they are taken more seriously and that more opportunities are available. We still have a ways to go but it is changing. I hope this film will help to open the door for other women writer/directors.”


“What’s the best part about being a filmmaker?”

“I love being on set. I would be on set more if possible. As you know, there is so much time spent on pre-production before you get to shoot.”


How did you finance the film?

“We had production support from Telefilm Canada, Ontario Creates, CBC Films, and Shaw Rocket Fund. We also had development support from Harold Greenberg Fund, National Screen Institute and IFP.”


“How has the audience reaction been?”

The audience reaction has been amazing. I could not be happier.”


“What happens to the film after VIFF and the festival run?”

“The film will make its theatrical release after the festival run next year. We will be playing at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival in October. And other great film festivals that I can’t announce yet. Then a theatrical release in spring 2019. Followed by a nation-wide broadcast release on CBC.”


LEVEL 16 screened at VIFF on the 29TH. Danishka is a brilliant force to be reckoned with, a game changer in the Sci-fi field. I’d like to say I can just imagine the stellar films she has yet to produce… but she’s a writer/filmmaker with a vision for the future and that leaves me guessing, but that’s the fun part.


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