Mr. Fulci and I have something in common with our “Catholic” themes.
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Your new movie Ave Maria – in a few words, what is it about?
Justice. Or maybe karma is a better word. And awareness.
The story of castrato singer Alessandro Moreschi forms the (not only musical) backbone of Ave Maria – how did you stumble upon his story, and what prompted you to make a film around it?
I was researching the history of castrati when I found his song. The notion is truly horrific but seems to be met with shrugs when discussed. Families actually considered it an honor. It’s insane.
Other sources of inspiration when writing Ave Maria?
To the point, I am a survivor of clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese of Worcester Massachusetts. All of the PR from Rome claims that this is just a crisis of the 60’s and 70’s – which simply isn’t true. The creation of castrati for the pleasure of the Pope is a good example. And the mutilation of children was not only accepted by the faithful, but as I said, considered a privilege. The same level of denial exists with the church today.
Abuse of all sorts is entrenched in the history of the Catholic Church. The Inquisition, Crusades, relationship with Hitler, sexual abuse. Yet all are still considered holy and humble. I don’t think there is anything holy or humlbe to suggest that it is okay to castrate a seven year old boy so he can sing in a soprano voice for the enjoyment of the Pope.
Ave Maria is a metaphor of these much larger themes.
You just have to talk about your haunted forest-like location for a bit, and how did you find it, and the advantages and challenges of filming there?
I live in the heart of the Blackstone Valley, which is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. Once the mills opened all of the farms weren’t tended to and reforested. It’s all new growth. Grown on the land of the Puritans of witch hunt fame. Historically alone that makes these woods creepy.
H.P. Lovecraft used to travel into the heart and woods of the Blackstone Valley for inspiration when he ran out of ideas. I’m honoring that tradition.
You just have to talk about your film’s very lyrical feel for a bit, and what made you choose this approach to your story at hand?
I looked at both Microcinema and Ave Maria as mini-operas. As poetry. I directed the cast of Ave Maria to act as if they were in a ballet. Because as horrific as their acts are, their intentions of balancing the ledger are pure. It isn’t done out of anger or hatred. It is done to shed light and truth.
There are other films of extreme violence that makes one turn away. In order to see the truth of something you have to keep looking. If you can add an element of beauty to it, it is harder to turn away.
Please do talk about your cast, and why exactly these people?
We are a small community of filmmakers and actors in New England. For the most part we all know each other. As such I generally don’t audition people. I find people I trust. This is an incredibly brave group of people.
Aurora Grabill as Missy in both films is incredible. You can actually see emotion in her eyes behind the mask. That’s not an easy task. If you watch Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, you can see the same with Kip Weeks. It is amazing to watch.
Similarly with David Graziano. I’ve worked with him on four projects now. He only speaks in one of them. His is very expressive, but not overly. Which anyone could be tempted to do with such a role.
Izzy Lee and Diana Porter have the same quality as Aurora in their ability to act behind the mask. Plus between the three of them we have a brunette, redhead and blonde. A trinity of western women. I can’t think of who was more persecuted by the church than them. So all are represented.
Jami Tennille, the woman recording the event, simply has an amazing look and brings a certain calm intensity to the person who is baring witness.
The first shot of Ave Maria seems to pick up exactly where an earlier film of yours,Microcinema, has left off, even if it later develops in a whole different direction. Care to talk about the connection between the two movies for a bit, and about Microcinema as such?
Microcinema comes to being from two angles. My history as a “victim” or “survivor” (not a fan of either word) of abuse and as a person who watched a lot of exploitation films, especially when I was a lot younger. Films like I Spit on Your Grave were disturbing and, because of the revenge aspect, empowering. But the formula got tiresome and things get strange, like when they did the sneak preview of the Evil Dead-remake at Comic Con and people in the audience began to cheer the tree rape. That is even more disturbing. But that creepy pattern had been there for awhile.
So I made Microcinema to change the formula. The female character Missy never becomes a victim. He never lays a hand on her. And he is destroyed for even thinking about violating her. It was that simple.
Ave Maria follows the same themes except the camera is now pointed squarely at the church.
What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
I always wanted to be a filmmaker but just never got around to it until now. For the most of my life I have been a visual artist, painting, charcoals etc, and poet. In 2005 I put all of that together in a one man show called “Catholic (Surviving Abuse & Other Dead End Roads)“. Horrible title.
There is a lot of competition between the states in the US to get major films to work come and film there. I live in a region that has very generous tax incentives so, after the close of the one man show I started to get work in these films. Mostly as an extra. I was even an extra in Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying, the man who glorified that position. I was lucky enough to observe the likes of Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, Richard Kelly and Lasse Hallström work.
Then I simply decided to make my own. I am a let’s just do it-kind of person, so no formal training.
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Ave Maria?
At this point I’ve directed ten short films. I’ve been lucky enough to have a certain amount of success with them, at least in the festival circuit.
Any future projects you’d like to share?
A feature length of Microcinema is in the works. The script is completed and I’m shopping it around. Suze Crowley from The Devil Inside is attached. Which is very exciting. I’m shopping that with producers now. I’m also just about finished with another feature length calledMetamorphosis and Lynn Lowry is attached to that. I will be shopping that around this summer as well.
In your films (at least the ones I’ve seen) you never seem to shy away from dark themes. Care to comment on that?
I think my personal history has a lot to do with that. Even my comedy is dark. The one man show had a lot of stand up in it. For me the ability to create dark is a way to control it.
How would you describe yourself as a director?
Old. I honestly don’t know. That’s more of a question for the cast and crew.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
My two favorite filmmakers are Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen. Who seem like second cousins. Their films are vastly entertaining yet seem to break the rules. Formulas and rules are things I have a very hard time following as an artist. Or even as a person.
Your favourite movies?
There are so many. Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, Carol Reed’s The Third Man, Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, Takashi Miike’s “Audition“. I thought Richard Bates jr’s Excision was brilliant.
Bergman’s The Silence, Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories.
The list is different every time I’m asked. Which I suppose is proper. It all depends on the mood and day.
… and of course, films you really deplore?
Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. I don’t really deplore them, that’s a strong word. But I really don’t like them.
Your/your movie’s website, Facebook, whatever else?
I have a blog I occasionally update – https://skipshea.wordpress.com/
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
These were great questions. I think we have it covered. Thank you.
Thanks for the interview!