It may seem difficult to believe now, but there was a time when the United States held the reins when it came to horror movies.
Monsters both old and new burst onto the screen, terrifying audiences all around the world. Since the early days of cinema, horror has become a much broader genre, encompassing a wide variety of tones and scare factors.
As this shift has taken place, filmmakers from many other countries have contributed to horror in meaningful ways, helping to redefine how terrifying these movies can be.
Australian director Jennifer Kent wowed theaters with her directorial debut, The Babadook, creating the subgenre of modern art house horror.
Mexican director Guillermo del Toro continues to create work that features immensely detailed monsters, not all of whom are evil.
And now, Venezuelan director, editor, and producer Katherin Hussein is on her way to joining their ranks. Her fixation on dark fantasy and thriller films has helped develop her own brand of creepy-but-fascinating monsters and storylines.
With a number of credits and awards to her name, Hussein sat down with Vents to discuss her view on contemporary independent filmmaking, cultural influence, and just what makes filmmaking so special.
Do you think we’re living through a Golden Age of independent filmmaking? Is it possible for just about anyone to make their own movie or short?
Yes, thanks to new technology, making a film has become easier. Now everyone with a cell phone can record videos and tell stories. Also, video streaming platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook allow for self-distribution at no cost. Some actors and filmmakers have become social media influencers with millions of followers.
Every year in my city of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, there was a film festival known for its three-day short film challenge. The festival gave all the enrolled filmmakers a secret theme, which was supposed to be translated into a short film no longer than three minutes. I and my team decided to shoot our submission on our cell phones. Our decision wasn’t based on our inability to rent equipment. We wanted to prove to ourselves and others that a good concept can be portrayed effectively without expensive equipment.
Our efforts paid off when our concept was honored with multiple awards. Years have passed, but I still work with the same ideology and keep my spirit inclined towards that simplified creative direction.
How much do the history and current political landscape of Venezuela inform your work?
In a professional sense, the situation of Venezuela pushes me to overcome any obstacles in my way. Production obstacles don’t compare to the hardships of the people of my country.
Representing my country makes me want to work twice as hard. I have a constant need to prove that even in the hardest times there are professional and hardworking people making their country proud. In a way, it gives hope to the Venezuelans living and fighting against economic and social crisis.
The current political landscape of Venezuela has also influenced me as a filmmaker. Art can change and influence the masses. Every movie, be it a fantasy or a comedy, teaches you something. That’s my contribution towards helping my country, by portraying themes and topics that are not being heard because of the government’s control over mass-media.
Do you feel that you have to think differently depending on which aspect of a production you’re working on, for example when you’re directing vs. when you’re producing?
Directing is the creative side of filmmaking. You have a vision, an idea that you have to execute in the most effective manner possible. Every decision ranging from a character jumping off a roof to the color of their wardrobe has to go through the director.
Producing is the logistical side. Whatever ideas the director has for the story, the producer makes sure that the essential elements are provided for the cast and crew to function smoothly.
Yes, I do think differently and my priorities are towards different goals when I’m directing versus when I’m producing.
Do the monstrous/horror elements in your work tend to represent a common theme or do they have different meanings in each project?
All the monsters have a different meaning because they are born with a specific reason in mind. I derive them from current social issues or everyday experiences that relate to a larger audience. Creating such monsters gives a face and a personality to the problem, which is scary at times, but it helps my characters face and overcome a tangible problem.
SIMON SAYS, a story about an outcast teenager with the ability to control his own shadow, was an award-winning fantasy thriller short film. The fictional element of Simon’s shadow is a metaphor for acceptance. He has two choices; to embrace himself with his alleged flaws, or to be medicated to blend into society.
How do you manage to create impressive visual effects, even without a large budget?
The whole idea of imagining and executing a monster and its universe in a creative and economic way is scary. Realistically speaking, the extent of the budget doesn’t matter, it’s never going to be enough.
While bringing a fantastical element into reality I follow a certain set of rules: extensive preproduction, creative problem-solving during production, and, the hardest one, willingness to compromise on ideas.
Having a clear vision of the monster and the effects that are going to make the monster believable help keep the budget concise and communicate the vision to the crew. Once the crew is briefed with the necessary details, they are free to work on their specific jobs. Ultimately, numerous departments collaborate with each other towards achieving a singular goal.
Do you think there are certain voices or perspectives that are being underserved by mainstream film cultures?
Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of the films that are released are more about meeting demographics and trends instead of being unique experiences that audiences can relate to and enjoy.
Blockbusters have taken over and made it difficult for films with smaller concepts to reach out to a decent number of filmgoers. We do have video streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, but they can be a blessing as well as a curse.
While smaller movies can be released to the masses through these platforms, they get buried under the other films that are promoted to users. Since fewer people watch movies in theaters, there is more emphasis on creating content optimized for online platforms.
When you’re having trouble coming up with new ideas, where do you look for inspiration?
When I’m having trouble coming up with a new idea, I usually take a break from the filmmaking side of myself. I leave everything for a while and don’t think about ideas, projects, or movies. I also like to watch and enjoy movies like a normal moviegoer or like my younger self, who used to integrate films into her life through her imagination.
Time is a rare commodity so trying to relax is difficult for me. If I’m not working I feel like I’m wasting time. I like to be active constantly. Another thing I do when I have writer’s block is clean. Cleaning helps me relax. It’s an easy task I can finish without thinking too much. Even if the pages are empty, it calms me and helps me replenish.
by Giorgio Chang