• Anthony Nadeau

Karen Lam--Writer/Director of Winner of BC's Best Film Award At VIFF. The Curse of Willow Song.

I have had the pleasure to speak with Karen a few years ago and I have enjoyed what she brings to the screen, here she was kind enough to take time to answer my questions, and bear in mind she has been busy with the constant ask for interviews and the like, so I am grateful.

Photo credit--Tallu Lah

So you just had your World Premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Oct 3 and it went to win the Best BC Feature Film. How does that feel as a filmmaker to be recognized on such a grand scale such as VIFF?

It’s an incredible honor, especially when it happens in your hometown where the film was conceived and created. As a horror filmmaker, I’m quite used to being ignored at best or hearing comments like “I like you but I can’t watch the films you make” so receiving this award after 14 years of writing and directing feels both special but also a little surreal.

I know that the film had it's debut on the screen at the Cinematheque in Vancouver and only so many people were allowed at the screening, how did that feel after all of the months of not attending any events such as this?

It actually played at two theatres — the Cinemateque and the VIFF Theatre — simultaneously but it felt quite incredible. I almost forgot how important it is to watch films on a large screen with other people. Filmmaking and viewing have become so insular and personal in the last year, and being able to share an experience in the same space with other people...it was incredible. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until that night.

Elfina Luk(left)plays Dani & Valerie Tian as Willow

Photo credit Tallulah Photography

Does this put any pressure on you as a writer/director for future projects?

It has definitely given me pause, but then again, so has the pandemic. Taking the last few months off actively creating projects has hit a reset button for me. It makes me really think about what I’m putting into this world and why. The question I keep asking myself is: “Is this project worth dying for?” And it’s become a real question, not just hyperbole.

Photo credit Tallulah Photography

This film tackles a few things and I don't feel that it would be fair to categorize it as a horror film but rather a day in the life of...you tackle drugs, racism, sexism, and also the horrors of the mind. How hard was it to get your ideas of what you wrote and then get it on to screen to help tell this story?

When I’m working at my best, it isn’t hard. It’s about not getting in my own way, not overthinking things, and not getting overly intellectual about things. This one definitely felt like we hit the right flow. I was down in Portland interviewing the female inmates in August of 2017. I wrote the novella that the script is based on in the first two weeks of November 2017 and adapted it immediately in the last two weeks. I did a second rewrite in late January of 2018 and then we went to camera in mid-March. The edit was equally fast but the post-production work took a lot longer and it felt a bit frustrating because everything else had gone so smoothly. And it wasn’t that post wasn’t smooth: it just kept getting put on the backburner until the very end of 2019.

The choice to shoot in black and white varies from director to director. What was your reasoning for this and did you have any concerns about possibly losing viewers because of it?

The film is inspired by Japanese ghost and samurai films from the 1960s and the aesthetic is black and white. There’s a dreamy quality to it, and the first line of the screenplay is “Film is shot in black and white.” I truly didn’t think about audience or commerce: I just make decisions based on what serves the film and its origins.

Photo credit Tallulah Photography

The location of the camera and the stillness of the framing is very traditional old school filmmaking, can you tell the readers who inspired you as a filmmaker when you were growing up even though your first jobs have not always been film?

I am lucky to have grown up in Brandon, Manitoba where we had a history professor (Dr. John Skinner) who showed weekly arthouse films at university 2 as a kind of film club. I later took cinema classes with him as part of my history degrees, so watching films in black and white, and classic filmmaking is very much a part of my personal history. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Kubrick, Hitchcock, Bergman — I remember watching A Clockwork Orange and The Seventh Seal in my early teens, earlier than I should have — as well as Italian neorealist films, like The Bicycle Thief. I don’t think we had any idea what these films were truly about but we loved the experience of going to the university basement to watch these old films in the little theatre there. We were probably excessively pretentious teenagers when it came to cinema.

Photo credit Tallulah Photography

Are there any plans for a major release of the film? Seeing as everything in the film world is being postponed as far a feature film releases(James Bond & Wonder Woman 1984) are being delayed for release next year. Do you see the film(s) in general just being released digitally for the future time being?

I think everything will be released digitally for the next few years, but I’m cheerfully pessimistic. Things in the world — not just our industry — are shifting significantly, despite our wanting to get back to normal, and I’m happy for the film to get seen, no matter what format. We have distribution worldwide but still looking for our Canadian home.

What is next for you and your team? I know you won at VIFF and the excitement must be overwhelming and so many interviews and such you have been doing during the festival. Do you have anything written are you planning another feature or a short film?

I have novels and long-form stories that I’m working on right now. I can decide afterward whether they should be adapted to be filmed, but right now, the stories are coming out as prose, not in script format.

How do you see film overall being able to survive during the pandemic? 3 (not getting political) movie theaters are being shut down in Ontario again and certain theater chains are closing their doors for good in the USA, & Cineplex stock(Canada) keeps dropping by the day as well.

I think the key to our survival is adaptability. Letting go of expectations and forecasts, and living in the present is probably my happy place for now. I don’t have the true gift of foresight, although that’s just as well. I’ve seen what society does to people who “know” things...

{10} As a writer/director do you have any words for anyone who is wanting to get into the field of doing either or something in the field of film?

Normally, I would have sage words of wisdom about staying true to your voice, going out there, and just making things happen, but right now, I just want us all to stay safe and healthy. Let’s live long enough so we can make films...later.

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