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Return to the Gilded Age at Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival

"Master Servant" part of short film package available this Saturday

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 23, 2020

Director Julie Koehnen directs "Master Servant" on location at the James J. Hill mansion in St Paul, Minnesota

Reaching back to the late 19th Century, Minnesota native Julie Koehnen saw a time where wide disparities in income were

people like railroad tycoon James J. Hill to accumulate massive fortunes, build giant mansions as part of a lifestyle far removed from most ordinary people.

In her movie “Master Servant,” which is playing Saturday as part of the Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival’s short film package, Koehnen explores a time period which in some ways was different than any other in American history but in other ways has many similarities to today’s society.

Koehnen, who has worked as an editor on television shows such as “Ben and Kate” and “Storage Wars,” found inspiration for the show based on the life of Hill and the historic area of St. Paul where hundreds of mansions from the Gilded Age still stand.

It was a time when cheap immigrant labor fueled the rapid expansion of the country through the transcontinental railroad system.

“There were no labor laws so they could get away with paying people whatever they felt,” Koehnen said. “There was no income tax.”

The main character in the short is based on a loose composite of Hill, who she likened to an oligarch with “unimaginable wealth,” and his son-in-law. The short centers in on a gathering at the ritzy mansion which cost nearly $1 million to build at the time, a figure which would be unapproachable today. The movie was filmed inside the mansion, which is maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society.

The film has been nominated for several awards including its score, which has won awards.

Koehnen filmed a sequel to the short and is working on post production efforts. She received a state arts grant from Minnesota though she is also looking to raise additional funds to complete the work. She hopes the short films are the beginning of a future television series – America’s version of “Downtown Abbey.”

The film features period costumes which were borrowed from the local theatre.

One of the film’s main stars is Remy Auberjonois, who has acted in the movie “Michael Clayton” and shows like “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

Koehnen said she has been inspired early on by Alfred Hitchcock but now looks up most to director David Fincher for “his precision.” She admires his film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” the most. Fincher also directed “Se7en,” “The Game,” and “Gone Girl.”

In “Master Servant” Koehnen said she decided that “the oligarchs were unchangeable.”

The movie can be screened by visiting the Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival’s website at https://fmbifilmfest.com/.