Colin Robert Denhart
1.-How significant and important does the city of Indianapolis have in your work?
The City of Indianapolis plays an important role in Sister. The film in some parts is like a haunted tour of Indianapolis in highlighting some locations that hold a dark history. One of the houses in the scene where Sister Jowi (Vasudha Krishnamoorthy) walks through a neighborhood belonged to H. H. Holmes, who was an infamous serial killer in the late 1800s. The ghost girl (Jada Buehler) who Sister Jowi encounters is based on teenager Silvia Likens who was abused and tortured to death in Indianapolis in 1965. The location where we shot the scene is the exact same place where the house was where she was killed in real life, which was incredibly haunting to film. The area is now a parking lot for a church but the ghostly presence of the murder house still remains. The cemetery in the film is the resting place of many prominent people in the history of Indianapolis. Also the church where Sister Jowi hears ghostly voices is the same church where mass-murderer cult leader Jim Jones was a preacher. Jones claimed to be a prophet and caused the murder-suicide of over 900 followers in 1978 and appears in the film via a public domain voice recording of one of early sermons. These real-life horror locations add to the surreal nature of the film and helps blur the line between fact and fiction and the real and unreal.
2.-What recommendation do you give about studying cinema in the US: if you see it is necessary to be a director, what are the best schools in your opinion and if you have any recommendation from someone who wants to do a short-term course there.
I definitely recommend those interested in becoming quality filmmakers to study film/TV/media production. Nowadays anyone can shoot and edit HD videos on their phone, which is amazing when one remembers how an expensive camera and a nice computer were necessary to do so even just a decade ago, but there remains a level of skill and craftsmanship one needs to develop in order to make a feature film. I had the advantage of attending a high school in my teenage years that had a radio/TV facility and a full-service photo lab/dark room inside the school. We would learn how to use camera and audio equipment and work on music video and short film projects as part of our education. It was through these experiences that I was able to hone in on my filmmaking skills early on which helped me excel in my filmmaking/video production studies at Indiana University. Part of succeeding as a filmmaker as well is the process of trial and error and developing resilient in the face of adversity. There have been a few projects I have worked on in the past that had to be canceled due to unforeseen circumstances, but we learned from our missteps to ensure the problems would not happen in future productions. It also is good to keep a positive attitude and adapt to when things don’t work out as planned. When I was a film student, I thought my girlfriend at the time (who also was a film student) and I would go on to become the “John & Yoko” of film and conquer the movie industry together, and even though our relationship didn’t work out and I didn’t get the “Hollywood” career right after college as hoped, I persisted in my efforts to make films which has led to my recent successes as an independent filmmaker. To be successful in independent film, it also is key to creatively utilize the locations, people and other resources you have available. For Sister, many of the locations we used were places already important in my life such as my church and Freemasons Lodge. My church St. Paul’s Episcopal Church actually is the same church that was depicted in the movie The Fault in Our Stars. My Freemasons Lodge – Broad Ripple Lodge #643 – has many disguised members including author Chris Hodapp, and I am honored to be among them. I also featured my friends and Lodge brothers in many of the roles, which made the film even more personal. Matthew Davis who plays Father Matthew and Jody Fedor who plays Don. My friend Jesse Mattysse played the homeless man and helped with some production assistance and provided his house and pet lizards and snakes for filming. I am very thankful for their support!
3.-Do you have any gratitude to a teacher or another person in your training? Especially the work done in the field of sound in Sister is spectacular. In Halloween Cat and in The Girl in the White Room you had Derek Osgood, Joe Howard and Kyle Bastin working in the sound. Now you have done it alone with the collaboration of Kunda Yu and Al Jolson in the music of the film, what has changed to have that confidence?
I have great gratitude to the many teachers and professors I had in high school and college who helped me develop my skills as a filmmaker and believed that I would eventually succeed in my desired career path. Many of my educators have been industry professionals and have worked on several professional Hollywood productions. One of my professors worked as a producer for PBS and gave me my first internship there while a student. I especially am grateful to my high school radio/TV Randy Brist who laid the groundwork for my filmmaking knowledge and skills in the use of cameras and filmmaking software. Mr. Brist really helped inspire my passion for cinema and encouraged me to pursue my dreams of becoming a filmmaker. I learned so much about the history of film/TV and the study of classic movies from him. He is one of the best teachers I have ever had! I also am incredibly grateful to my audio production professors since audio is just as or possibly even more important than video. The inclusion of the public domain recording of Al Jolson’s song “Swanee” is a reference to Jolson making the first sound feature-film The Jazz Singer, ushering in a new era of filmmaking, and Sister is my first feature-length film and hope one that will usher in a new era of independent religious films. The song’s lyrics about birds also is a reference to the evil ghost character (Katie Harbridge) having a fascination with birds and the traditional artistic depiction of The Holy Spirit as a dove. Our assistant director Giorgio Giudice recorded the music used in the trailer for Sister, but he moved back to his home country of Italy during the pandemic, so he was unable to complete the soundtrack for the film. I got in contact with Kunda through the Jacob’s School of Music at Indiana University. I am really impressed with his talents and his ability to translate well the emotions I envision for each scene.
4.-Especially it is very innovative and risky some subtle added sounds in Vasudha Krishnamoorthy’s conversations, do you want to say something about it?
For the audio production, I was influenced by the production style of Orson Welles in which the audio would be recorded after the filming, which is daring but allows the filmmaker more control over the sound of the film and not to be hampered by unwanted noise on the set or requiring the presence of microphone operators, allowing greater flexibility in cinematography. We used a dressing room of my Freemasons Lodge as a makeshift recording studio in which we would record the actors speaking their lines while watching their performance on a computer so their audio would sync with the film.
5.-How was the casting done for Vasudha Krishnamoorthy, was it a very specific profile that you were looking for or did you adapt the film to her? In other words, did you build the film with the actress beforehand or you already had everything prepared in advance.
Vasudha was absolutely incredible to work with! We had first met in Fall 2019 when I was casting for a comedy pilot called Cup of Joe. The project was indefinitely postponed due to cast scheduling issues and ultimately the COVID-19 pandemic, but I was enamored by Vasudha and her many talents which include acting, filmmaking, martial arts, and dancing, which inspired me to want to work with her on other projects. Vasudha also bears a resemblance to actress Uma Thurman, who is one of my favorite actresses of all time and the one whom I often imagine in female roles I write. So in some ways, Vasudha already fit the look I was going for with the character but extra elements such as Sister Jowi’s Indian background were added with the casting of Vasudha. I had first come up with the idea for Sister. Since working on the film together, we have gone on to collaborate on a sequel to Sister (which is currently in production) and multiple short films, dance videos, and other projects. I hope we continue to work together throughout our film careers; Vasudha is the best actress/filmmaker I have ever collaborated with!
6.-Is there a David Lynch sequence that you have a predilection for, like the atomic bomb in Twin Peaks?
I am a huge fan of David Lynch’s work! Sister, from a visual and thematic standpoint, is heavily inspired by Lynch’s films, particularly Eraserhead and Tw
in Peaks. The opening sequence of the creation of the Universe for example is much like the atomic bomb sequence from “Part 8” in the 3rd season of Twin Peaks. In some ways too the casting of pop star ANZA in the role of Sophia is similar to rock artists David Bowie and Chris Isaak appearing in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Both Lynch and I practice Transcendental Meditation and the origins of Sister came about while I was on the TM Sidhi program in Fairfield, Iowa in Summer 2019 (the room I stayed in is actually next door to where The Beach Boys made their MIU Album), so I like to think Lynch, I, and others who practice advanced levels of TM draw from the same creative source. I would be happy to collaborate with Mr. Lynch in the future! Stanley Kubrick also is a major influence on my work! The “stargate” scene at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey is influential on the “trip” scene of Sister Jowi in the film. Also The Shining is a major influence, especially in the apartment scenes. I really like Kubrick’s approach to cinematography and including deeper underlying meanings and symbolism in his work, which I like to emulate in my films.
7.-Do you know Jean-Luc Godard’s cosmogonic sequence of 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle using a cup of coffee? Do you think it has any similarity to any sequence in your movie?
I actually have not seen that movie but I want to now that you mention its similarities.
8.-How much European cinema reaches the United States? Do you have any director you follow? And from Spain?
European films may not be as popular among the general public but are quite popular among film enthusiasts in the United States. In college, I studied several European films for classes and often would borrow classic European films from the library. German filmmaker Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings of Desire is a major influence in Sister, especially in cinematography and the spiritual themes. I actually had dinner with German filmmaker Werner Herzog when he visited my college in Fall 2012, and he offered me great filmmaking advice, especially on how to make a good horror movie. Alejandro Jodorowsky has had an influence on my filmmaking style as well, especially in how he incorporates esoteric symbolism into his work. For Spanish cinema specifically, Abre Los Ojos is one of my favorites, along with its American remake Vanilla Sky starring Tom Cruise. Spanish actor Javier Bardem’s 2018 film Mother also is a major influence on Sister, both in title and religious symbolism. The sequel to Sister which is currently in production will have more of an Hispanic influence with the addition of Ecuadorian actress Andreina E. to the cast as a new nun named Sister Mariana.
9.-How did you arrive to read the Baghavadgita, The Quran and Freemasonry? Do you know the work of authors like Joseph Campbell or Alain Daniélou? Did Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish book influence you on meditation experience?
I could write an entire book on my spiritual development and interest in the readings of sacred scriptures of various religions, especially within the past 5 years! I was born and raised Catholic and attended Catholic school from preschool through 8th grade and was an altar boy through high school. I am grateful for the religious education I received from my priest Father Tim and my nun Sister Lenore who both inspired me and got me excited about exploring theology. After college, I stopped going to church for a few years because I was going through an emotionally rough period in my life and had my disagreements with the worldly politics of the Church. However, one night in 2016, I had a divine vision that inspired me to renew my spiritual life. I was laying in bed and saw a giant color wheel appear before that represented the Universe and m the pieces of the color wheel were in a constant struggle to stay together with love and happiness keeping them together and fear and hate driving them apart. I realized at that moment we as humans need to create as much positive energy as possible and remove as much negative energy as possible in order to keep our Universe whole. I also saw a staff in front of me and realized that we all are either shepherds or sheep and if we cannot pick up the staff in front of us and become good shepherds then it proves we are just sheep and destined to become nothing more than package meat. I then saw what I later found out to be Shiva and Ganesh, and the vision ended. I stayed up all night in a daze of what I had experienced. After that night I started investing time in learning about various religions and started reading their sacred scriptures. Shortly after in early 2017, I joined the Freemasons and learned Transcendental Meditation and converted to the Episcopal Church. Over the past few years I have been reading the sacred scriptures of all major religions in chronological order and have found connections between all of them as if a divine message is communicated throughout all religions over time. My study of the sacred scriptures influenced my writing of Sister and I have incorporated many of the things I have discovered into the film. I have been a Freemason for nearly 5 years and have ascended several ranks in my Lodge and have gone through multiple degrees but there is still lots to learn and I hope the knowledge I gain will influence my work as I advance in Freemasonry. I studied some of Joseph Campbell in my high school honors English class. We also studied Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and Dante’s Divine Comedy in the same year and all have had a life-long impact on my work. I read David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish shortly after my spiritual awakening in 2016. It definitely played an inspiration in me learning Transcendental Meditation, along with my life-long interest in The Beatles and wanting to follow particularly what John Lennon and George Harrison had discovered on a spiritual level. One of my all time favorite Beatles songs (which I played a lot as a student DJ) is “Across the Universe,” which is about Transcendental Meditation. I actually have a playlist of some of the spiritual songs that have inspired me most over the years. (https://youtube.com/playlist?
list=) PLmlyrFwts2a3VeuozLPFAiSel0M35 WYmb
10.-“Dreams are worms that eat my soul” Thomas Ligotti. What influence do American horror and gothic writers like Thomas Ligotti, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch have on your work? Are they read and known in your country? Here in Spain they are highly revered and idolized in certain circles and everyone knows Stephen King or R. L. Stine. Graphic novel writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller are also very well received.
In terms of American horror, many of the classic horror movies have been very influential in Sister, particularly Halloween, Psycho
, and The Exorcist but even older horror films such as Dracula and Frankenstein. Stephen King definitely is one of my favorite horror writers. I read several of his books when I was in high school and enjoy most of the adaptations of his work, especially Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980), The Green Mile (1999), and It (1990). I read the Goosebumps books of RL Stine as a kid and watched the TV series. The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, and Star Trek also were a major influence in my youth. I watched reruns all the time on the Syfy Channel and even made a Twilight Zone parody as one of my first student projects in high school.
11.-How was the creature design work with Derrick Childers? Did he have a lot of creative freedom or were you very specific with him in what you wanted?
Derrick and I go way back! Derrick was in my radio/TV class in high school, and we worked on short film projects together as students. Derrick now works professionally as a creature designer in Hollywood, so I reached out to him about doing the creature design for Sister. The design of the creature is inspired by Yaldabaoth which is from the Gnostic scriptures, and is described as an entity with a snakes body and a lion’s head, so we stuck to those parameters. The scene where Sophia (played by pop star ANZA) impregnates herself and gives birth to Yaldabaoth was partially inspired by an episode of the TV show Stargate SG-1 in which the alien goddess Hathor gives birth to larva, so the appearance of these creatures also was an influence.
12.-What did you learn from your animated short Halloween Cat? Has it allowed you creative freedom in your visual effects?
Halloween Cat was a long but exciting production. I first came up with the idea in 2011, and in 2016, I met animators Brianna Garner and Caleb Crouch (both now married) and approached them with the idea. I thought it would only take a few weeks, but the animation for the project ended up taking almost 2 years to complete. I really learned in the process how long it takes to animate what amounts to a short length in the final edit. My Lodge brother Derek Osgood who also provided the music to my short film The Girl in the White Room provided the voice of the cat and the music for the film.
13.-In The Girl in the White room your influences from Kubrick and Lynch are more evident, did it serve you as an experimentation in your black and white photography and with the use of color? How was your work with the actress Emily Kreuzman?
I definitely was influenced heavily by Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch for The Girl in the White Room, particularly the scene in the white room at the end of 2001 and the Black Lodge scenes in Twin Peaks. I also was heavily inspired by the 1968 Monkees movie Head and make some references to Beatles and Pink Floyd songs and albums. Like many of my films, I created a playlist of songs that inspired me that formed a story when placed in a particular sequence (songs here: https://m.youtube.com/
playlist?list= PLmlyrFwts2a0cTQZJuW0BYFdXWG_ V_vIT). The film is actually a remake (which also could be interpreted as a sequel) to a film I made in high school called The Man in the White Room, which I was only 16 when I made it. Emily Kreuzman was excellent to work with, and she pulled off such an amazing European accent that I have talked to people who have watched the film who were convinced she is a foreign actress. Her fiancé Zachary Brown acts too and actually appeared in a short thriller film I produced with Vasudha last year called College Avenue. Emily has gone on to star in other productions in Indiana and we have talked about collaborations in the future, possibly a film about 1960s rock star Janis Joplin. I actually have outlined a sequel to White Room called Beyond the Walls that will continue to explore psychedelic themes even further and focus on multiple colors and not just white.