Today we are pleased to welcome Russell Friedenberg to the site in order to talk about his latest film Wind Walkers. Having enjoyed considerable success at this year’s FrightFest we wanted to catch up with Russell and find out what inspired the film, how the challenging shooting process played out and what he has planned for the future. Read on for our interview…
Hi Russell. Firstly, do you want to give our readers a quick synopsis of your new film Wind Walkers?
Sure. Wind Walkers is about a group of friends and family that descend into the swamplands of the Everglades for their annual hunting trip, only to discover that they are the ones being hunted. One of their party, Sean Kotz (Zane Holtz) may be possessed by something he has brought home from a tour of duty in the Middle East – a demon of war so horrible and deadly that even he is unaware of its devilish presence.
What first inspired you to write the script for Wind Walkers?
Its my anti-war film. I’ve always been interested in the idea of colonialism and our never ending hunger for it. The film came from an idea about how to link some of the stories I’ve heard in native country about a demon of war that the indigenous folks conjured to take revenge against their colonialist oppressors.
A number of other recent films have picked up on the wendigo legend as a good source for a horror villain: Ravenous, Wendigo, The Last Winter and this year’s Dark Was the Night. Did you look at any of these for inspiration, or to find out what not to do? What sets your film apart?
Of those films I’ve only seen Ravenous. I’ll check out the others. I really can’t speak to what sets mine apart as I don’t have a context for the others. Ravenous was a completely different tone than Wind Walkers. It had a bizarre calliope type of soundtrack and an absurdist turn. Mine is straight up drama/horror.
What other films or directors did you look at while making the film?
Deer Hunter, The Thing and Predator were the films that most inspired.
Wind Walkers is fairly political. Did you set out to make a film with a message, or was that something that just crept in during the writing process?!
Sixes as they say! It always had that behind it but in the end, I decided to add some flourishes as I got more and more pissed at the never ending foreign policy stupidity of our government and others.
You shot in the Everglades. Can you tell us what that process was like? How did it differ from previous shoots you’ve done?
It was a nightmare!! Bugs, gators, snakes, no money and 17 days all add up to a ‘hell’thy cocktail!! The indigenous people of the Everglades are the Seminole Indians. “Seminole” is a derivative of “cimarron” which means “crazy men” in Spanish. The original Seminoles were given this name because only ‘crazy men’ would venture into the Everglades. Incredibly rewarding and ridiculously difficult I think sums it up. I had the greatest cast and crew one could imagine. No one was there for the money. They believed in the story and my vision and lined up. The real difference between this shoot and the others was that Wind Walkers accrues mass as the story builds and in the third act becomes an action film. Shooting action was new for me. I absolutely loved it but it was a challenge to figure out how to do with no budget and no time. I think I lost 20 pounds just demonstrating what I wanted!
Your daughter Johnny is an actress too, including in your own films. How does sharing a professional relationship affect your family relationship?
Working as a family is a natural extension. My wife, Heather Rae, is an academy award nominated producer (Frozen River) and was the producer on Wind Walkers and my other two films, Ibid and Among Ravens. I’ve written and produced two documentaries that she has directed and we’ve worked together in various facets on many other films. Our daughter being an actress and working with us is very natural. We love to work together as a family. It is one of my great joys in this business.
Tell me about FrightFest. Your film premièred there, were you satisfied with the reception? How does the festival differ from indies such as Sundance?
FrightFest was fun. We had a great time overall. Sundance is a beast. I’ve been in and out of that festival for 20 years and I avoid it if I can. When I first started going it was manageable but its turned into its own thing and its hard to find the center. FrightFest felt like a festival that was in its birth period. It had a center and you felt it. Hope it grows up well!
Your earlier film Among Ravens comes out on DVD in the UK in early 2016. Can you tell us a bit about that film? What does it share with Wind Walkers, and how does it differ?
Among Ravens is seen through the eyes of nine-year-old Joey. Like Wind Walkers, it is the story of a group of friends who reunite for a family holiday weekend and everything goes awry! That is where all the similarities end. Among Ravens is a drama, pure and simple. The themes of it are loss of innocence and self-reflection as a seemingly harmless newcomer, Chad changes their lives one by one. There is no monster in Ravens, only our own ego’s and unwillingness to change.
What projects are in your future? What would be your dream project?
I’m doing a horror/thriller with Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, The Purge, Judge Dredd) that I’m really excited about. ‘Inspired by a true story’, it centers on a mother/daughter relationship and the mothers primal fear of losing her only child and of being physically and emotionally replaced by a supernatural entity.
I’m developing my dream project, it is a western called A Thousand Guns with Vera Farmiga. A drama about the ambiguity of good and evil, it is a supernatural revenge tale as Vera follows a very dark, criminal path in pursuit of her son and Satan on earth. Think Lawrence of Arabia meets Kill Bill!
And that’s all folks! Wind Walkers is now available on DVD and to Download from Sept 21 in the UK, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box!