STARBURST: Where did the inspiration for Wind Walkers come from?
Russell Friedenberg: First of all, I’m educated as a historian. My undergraduate degree is in history and I’ve always had an inclination towards indigenous cultures around the world. I’m fascinated by their mythologies as well as how they dealt with colonialism specifically, though the theme that captured me was that memory is political; without us retaining our memories and our mythos there’s no aggregate to the political environment we’re in. What did the indigenous cultures do to fend off the onslaught from colonial invaders and did they invent their own mythos? Cut to modern times and we send our offspring off overseas to fight and so we’ve forgotten the history and the stories.
There is an interesting dynamic to the group with clear affection but also underlying tension. How would you describe them?
There are certainly personal tensions here. Sonny has issues, as his two best friends went off to war and he didn’t, so he positions himself as the alpha male in the group whenever he can. It’s really hard to put seven people in a shack and keep it interesting, but for me without character there is no plot. If they only had to fight some clichéd disease, then there would be no tension or arcs and it would be boring. And we had to do all that in seventeen days!
There seemed to be a mythical element to the creature or infection but also something new. How did it come about?
Our systems aren’t necessarily immune to so many things we don’t understand so some of the inspiration was of a disease that develops and then takes hold. I worked with Rudy and he had a very distinct vision of how it would overtake him in the film. We talked about cultural relevance and the legend of shape shifters in his culture such as the wendigo; incarnations of spiritual viruses that take over.
The creature seems to emerge from some characters having been prisoners of war.
The Native Americans speak of the invaders bringing viruses those people couldn’t fight and now their descendants are going abroad and doing the same thing, fighting in places they don’t belong. It’s the theory of blowback. It doesn’t matter who you are, there’s this idea that essentially this will come back on you.
We wondered how much of the global element you filled out in notes or a background script as the news broadcasts keep alluding to a bigger contagion.
I wanted this to be a life raft where the viewer was focussing on one small island of what is occurring as a real global crisis. We have issues in a modern day family and how that played out, but I wanted there to be glimpses that if they ever do get away, then there’s nowhere left for them to go. We had a kind of Kubrickian ending really; is there hope or isn’t there? Perhaps there will be a sequel!
How was the filming process? It looked like a tough location in which to work.
I was a very lucky as I had an amazing cast and crew who all had a “can do” attitude. Everyone just got in line behind my vision and when you’re doing low budget films, that enthusiasm really shows through. There are some wonderful performances throughout; everyone stepped up.
We were interested in how much of the original script or story made it to the final cut?
It changed tremendously; not in the vision, but how it happened. My original idea was set in a different environment where the hunters were snowed in, but when we ended up shooting in Florida then that changed to a hunting shack in the everglades. I’d still love to do something with that original idea though as that kind of isolation interests me.
You have a few films in development according to IMDB. What’s next for you?
I’m very lucky. I’m shooting a thriller soon with Lena Headey and I have a western I’ve been developing for a while and Vera Farmiga is involved in that. It’s very exciting. I’m just about getting ready to start an action thriller in the vein of Drive meets No Country for Old Men, but no-ones attached to that yet.
WIND WALKERS is screened at London’s Film 4 FrightFest on Friday August 28th at 1pm in Discovery Screen 1, and will be released in September.