A Winter Table
a culinary ghost story
About the Film
A Winter Table is a new dramatic thriller by Derek Kimball whose 2016 feature, Neptune, was lauded as one of the best films to come out of the Slamdance Film Festival in years. A Winter Table is in development with the help of a fellowship from the Sundance Institute and was selected for IFP's No Borders program.
Currently the team behind A Winter Table is working to engage talent, namely an actor to fill the role of Elizabeth Taft, the film's protagonist.
Compelled by the news of her estranged husband’s death, renowned chef Elizabeth Taft returns to find a hungry entity living in the walls of the home she left behind.
Elizabeth Taft hasn’t cooked in years. As the proprietor of a reputable catering company, her life’s passion has taken a back burner. When she learns of the death of her husband, Thomas, from whom she’s been estranged these 20 years, she is compelled by guilt to return to the home she left. Alone in the house, in the immense kitchen she knew well those 20 years ago, she is reunited with her love of cooking. The meals she makes, however, go missing in the night. Empty plates are found licked clean in the hallway. Before long, voices from her past echo behind the walls. His voice and her voice. She begins to lure the voices with the promise of more food. What can she cook that will appease the entity living in the walls? What can it say to relieve her of her guilt? A Winter Table is a story about identity, communication and a woman’s struggle to come to terms with the choices she made in another life.
There is a well known trend in folklore wherein a person robs a corpse of something in order to fend off hunger. In the night they are visited by the corpse or, in some cases, its ghost who demands the stolen object back. The most common iteration of this tale features an old woman who finds a bone in the ground and takes it home to make bone soup. In the night something calls to her over the wind, closer and closer to where she is huddled in her little bed.
Variations of this story have been told around campfires for centuries and in a dozen different cultures, but the core idea remains intact; that all life must participate in this business of living by eating and by eating we participate in death. We support the taking of life for sustenance. These myths, like most myths, are attempts to put humankind into accord with the rest of existence. In this case, perhaps to absolve ourselves from a collective shame we feel in this need to sacrifice life for our own nourishment. Indeed, many cultures have rites used to pay tribute to those lives that are taken. Obviously, in our own culture today, we are far more removed from this relationship with food as we confront the plethora of shrink-wrapped chickens in the supermarket, but the fact remains that death and food are eternally intertwined.
While this is a common thread throughout the world’s mythology, it is not something well explored in art, and this is what led me to A Winter Table. I love folktales and myths as much for their regional flavor as for the clarity with which they point to otherwise inarticulable but fundamental truths about the experience of living on the earth. When fueled by these stories, modern narratives sing to us in ways we seem to recognize from some distant past. It was this insight that led to the monopolization of narrative structure in cinema by the archetypal “Hero’s Journey,” but I would argue that there are hundreds of other myths that would prove no less resonant. It is this conviction, coupled with a deep and lifelong interest in folklore, that has driven my attempts to build modern narratives on top of strong mythological foundations; to clothe those structures in new forms. This allows me to provide the audience with a confident foothold in something safe. This safehaven emboldens them to venture further into new modalities of storytelling without feeling alienated. In A Winter Table, the themes of food and death provide that foothold. With that in place I’m excited to engage collaborators who are eager to continue to push cinematic language toward a new and more engaging form.
The visual language of A Winter Table is built upon the ideas of starkness and limitation. The story is about a woman's struggle to understand the decisions of her past and as such the film's palette progresses from stark contrasts representing the rigidity with which she has built a life out of avoiding self reflection, to richer more open cues as she begins to learn to validate herself.
The house Elizabeth left behind was built by her late husband, Thomas, a skilled architect. The house reflects an attempt to lure Elizabeth to stay; many of the rooms built to appeal to her sensibilities. Some of the house, however, is unfinished. The textures provided by drywall, immense lengths of tarpaulin and scaffolding will lend a new voice to the haunted house subgenre, and as Elizabeth begins to brave the space between the walls, things become more abstract.
Elizabeth's work is everything to her. It's the way that she has built an identity for herself, but the identity she built is devoid of self-love. The food she prepares is cold and favors form over flavor. As the film progresses food is used to articulate Elizabeth's arc toward better understanding herself.
The thing in the wall calls to Elizabeth in voices from her past. Its body seems to change as it changes voices. Throughout the film we catch glimpses of the entity but at no point is there a chance to see it in totality. Very often it is seen on the other side of the plastic which frames out an unfinished room in the house. In the script the thing is described as:
" A tangle of limbs; arms, hands, feet and legs. They writhe and squirm like a nest of snakes. Heads hang on the figure's underside like spider eggs."
*Note: Some of the images below may be considered disturbing.
Director Derek Kimball's feature Debut Neptune paints an eerie portrait of a young girl's last summer of adolescence. Addressing themes of identity and loss, the film garnered rave reviews at the Slamdance film festival where it screened in 2016.
"One of the best films to come out of Slamdance in quite some time."
- Criterion Cast
Jen Widor Smith