Every year, the FilmQuest film festival turns the wholesome mountain town of Provo, Utah into a realm of dark and dreamy horror and fantasy films. A Q&A held Wednesday showed that FilmQuest filmmakers are also gifted at transforming familiar worlds into fantastical ones.
The discussion, held in Velour, an all-ages venue bedecked in skulls, webs, and other Halloween remnants, felt like a crypt at midnight compared to the clean, sunny scene outside its velvet curtain. It was a perfect setting for the festival’s fantasy block, entitled “See With Eyes Wide Anew.”
Maya Albanese, director of the short “The Ringmaster,” in which a woman emerging from a rough childhood spends a wild night with circus people in a curious castle, explained that she had to dramatically change her plans because of Covid.
But it worked out magically: Her film is captivating and leaves you wanting more.
“The short is a slice of my feature film that I’m hoping to make next year that takes place in an abandoned castle in Eastern Europe,” she told FilmQuest founder Jonathan Martin in the Q&A. “But because it was the Omicron surge when I was making the proof of concept, I actually shot that in a mansion in Silverlake in Los Angeles. So it was the only place in Los Angeles that looked remotely like the location I actually want to shoot in.”
FilmQuest and Fantasy
James T. George, whose fantasy short “Clemency” is about a soldier doing battle in Elven woods, also created a wonderous setting in an unlikely place.
“Yeah, I’m from Ohio, so that was shot like 15 minutes from my house,” he explained. “We didn’t have a lot of budget so I was like, ‘outdoors! Shoot it outdoors!”
The result is a frenetic escapist story that recalls Excalibur and Lord of the Rings.
The fantastical, voyeristic “Spiderlily,” by director Amber Gray, defies easy catagorization, but it’s mesmerizing. The film takes place in a complex castle filled with candelabras, lookouts and secret passageways, where a haughty young man uses a spyglass to check in on a number of fascinating characters. Gray and her team built the whole world at her home, a warehouse outside New York City, as a proof of concept for a planned feature.
“We built most of that in our house — the interiors. We knew we wanted the exteriors to be rotting castles in Scotland, so when finally we were able to travel, we went and shot all the exteriors in Scotland,” she said.
The spyglass concept combines several stories seamlessly.
“That’s why it’s all a lot of vignettes — because we shot everyone separately,” she said.
Only Kelly Holmes, director of the North Wales-set period horror film The Sin-Eater, actually shot in her film’s location — which presented its own challenges. The dark and haunting film, about a woman who engages in a dark practice called sin-eating after a baby’s death, takes place in wild lands that haven’t changed much in the many decades since the film is set.
“It’s not easy to actually shoot in north Wales, because there’s no infrastructure there really,” Holmes explained. “The structures are in South Wales, and I don’t live in Wales, and I don’t speak Welsh. So it was quite interesting. And I was the location scout and location manager because my producer lives in Scotland.”
But touring rustic locales will only get you so far — Holmes said she found her main setting, a church, by “a lot of looking on Google Maps — looking for churches that didn’t have anything modern at all.”
Main image: Jonathan Martin leads the “See With Eyes Wide Anew” Q&A.