When director/producer Megan Riakos took the helm as President for Women in Film & Television NSW, little did she know that she was on the verge of establishing a potential pathway of hope for women in the industry.
With a feature film already on her credits, Crushed, which was incredibly well received, Megan would team up with Leonie Marsh and Briony Kidd to produce a horror anthology that would unite Australian female directors and writers in a powerful collection of stories that shake the soul.
Dark Whispers Vol. 1 is currently screening as part of Monsterfest Australia 2019 and Megan recently chatted with the Surgeons team ahead of the Sydney event to dissect and discuss the creative process involved.
Megan Riakos interview:
One of the key strengths behind this anthology, is the strength in the storytelling, pulling from various aspects across the Australian landscape to combine and make a cohesive and powerful narrative of our great southern land.
When it came to selecting the stories that would bind together for Dark Whispers Vol. 1, what specifically were you looking for?
I worked with Briony Kidd, festival director of Stranger With My Face International Film Festival (SWMFIFF) on the curation of the anthology and we received submissions via the general callout as well as approaching people directly to ask them to submit. Briony’s work on her festival meant she was privy to some great films that weren’t on my radar and gave us a good cross-section of films to consider. When submissions closed, we created a long list for discussion based on the film’s horror characteristics, as well as the quality of directing, acting, production values, script and originality.
There was no set theme required for these films beyond it being a horror film by a female identifying director who is a resident or citizen of Australia.
We curated the films that resonated with us and that would complement the other films in the anthology.
Your vision overall was to shed light on the wealth of female talent in the industry, which has this great myth that there is a shallow pool out there.
How did you go about shattering this myth and in what way do you hope that Dark Whispers will transform the cinema audiences expectations?
The very act of creating a women’s horror anthology and kicking off the project with a call out to the Australian screen industry for horror films by women generated a discussion around the issue and now with the festival release, it is helping to recalibrate our expectations of who can be a horror filmmaker.
At our Melbourne Monster Fest screening we had several emerging women horror filmmakers in the audience who said that up ’til they point, they felt like they were the lone female horror maker amongst their peers and that they felt hopeful seeing a whole bunch of other women out their creating really great content.
I am a firm believer in ‘If you can see it, you can be it”.
With 10 fellow directors involved in the short features in the film, how much weight did you allow them to let their creativity flourish?
We discovered these films when they were fully complete, so had no impact on how they were made, however I was heavily influenced by each film when it came time to write and direct the wraparound segment which tied each segment together.
You have spoken about recent inspirations from anthologies, A Night of Horror and XX.
What did you learn from these films and how did that impact on your direction?
There is a rich history of horror, thriller and sci-fi anthologies over the years from the likes of Twilight Zone & Creepshow to the more recent Southbound, Black Mirror, ABC’s of Death and Holidays and they all use their own devices to create a cohesive bond around the Anthology.
As an audience member, I really enjoy it when there are “easter eggs” that tie otherwise disparate chapters together – whether it be a prop, a stylistic choice, a reference to a time or place or character that pops up in a different episode.
The two anthologies in particular that gave me the impetus to actually make Dark Whispers are A Night of Horror and XX which both came out about the same time.
A Night of Horror was also curated from existing films and I really enjoyed the way they developed their wrap around, referencing each proceeding film with the horror element within it – This project showed me that it was achievable to create a really great project with a low budget and I knew it was something that I could take on, especially once Enzo Tedeschi, the creator of that anthology, come onboard as Executive Producer on the film. XX was also a big inspiration – it was one of the first female horror anthologies out there and I wanted to do an Australian version for the horror filmmakers being overlooked here.
You’re a creative artist yourself and direct the segments called The Book of Whispers that unite the ten tales together.
What inspirations do you draw from in the creative process and what challenges did you face when creating this anthology?
Due to the broad call out for horror films, I wasn’t able to start working on the wrap around segment until we had locked in the final 10 films.
It was at that point that I started breaking down the inherent themes and similarities the films shared.
Many of the films explored longing, grief, regret and navigating life.
There were several films about family, kinship and motherhood and I was curious about the idea that we carry dark lessons with us from one generation to the next and we need to learn how to deal with carrying the darkness in life without succumbing to it.
The concept at the centre of the anthology is around a haunted book which is passed between helped to unify the diverse chapters within it.
The Book of Whispers centers around one character played by the magnificent Andrea Demetriades.
How did she become involved in the project and what was it like working with her?
My producing partner Leonie Marsh and I were brainstorming ideas about who could play our lead Clara and we both thought of Andrea Demetriades. We have loved seeing her work on Crownies, Pulse and Janet King and thought she would be perfect for the role.
Working with Andrea was wonderful, we only had one day to shoot all her scenes and she jumped right in and nailed it.
What has been the reaction you have received so far, and could we expect a Vol.2? Are there any other future projects on the horizon?
We are proud of Volume 1 and are really pleased with the response during our festival release.
We will gauge how we go over the following six months but are definitely planning a Volume 2 – whether that be a second horror anthology or perhaps steering over to explore science fiction.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment, in whatever guise that might be!
Dark Whispers Vol.1 will be screening at Monsterfest Australia 2019, where cast and crew will be available for a Q&A post film screening time below:
SUNDAY 3rd NOVEMBER, 6.15PM
Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney
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” I was curious about the idea that we carry dark lessons with us from one generation to the next and we need to learn how to deal with carrying the darkness in life without succumbing to it.”Tweet