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Emma Tammi on the historical origins of her female-fronted horror-Western The Wind

Contributed by
Oct 5, 2018

You know that eerie sensation when you're home alone and you hear something strange? Your mind might race to fill in the cavernous gnawing uncertainty with a totally logical explanation. It's the house settling. It's a stray cat. It's the wind. But what if it's not?

This paranoia-inducing uncertainty plays at the center of Emma Tammi's chilling narrative feature debut, The Wind.  Ahead of its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest, SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with director Emma Tammi, who shared the story's historical inspirations, its modern message, and the power of the women — onscreen and off — who brought this horror Western to life.

The Wind centers on Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard), a plainswoman struggling to survive in a humble log cabin far from civilization. When her husband journeys for provisions, Lizzy is left alone to endure the unrelenting wind, ravenous wolves, and something far more sinister that prowls and howls in the night. When a new couple builds a home nearby, Lizzy hopes a budding friendship with young Emma Harper (Julia Goldani Telles) will be her salvation from loneliness and terror. But nothing is quite what it seems in this untamed wilderness.

Tammi's directing career began in documentary, in which she co-helmed the distance-runner focused Fair Chase, and Election Day: Lens Across America, which captured the 2016 election through the lens of the photojournalists who covered it. In making her first solo effort, Tammi was eager to dive into narrative cinema and found her experience shooting in New Mexico for Fair Chase an advantage when pitching herself to The Wind "because it was in a landscape that was similar in terms of its vastness and prairie lands"

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As to what drew her to Teresa Sutherland's moody, genre-blending script, Tammi said, "I think the character of Lizzy was the main draw. Emma as well. The two women in the script and in the film are so nuanced, and so complicated, and so strong, and so vulnerable, and so flawed, that I was drawn to it from a dramatic perspective." 

"Then everything else was kind of an additional bonus," Tammi shared. "I love Westerns, so to stretch myself and get into a genre space, which I had never done before was also super fun. But it was really the drama and the richness of the characters that drew me in."

The opportunity to make a movie monster of her own also appealed to Tammi. She wanted her mysterious creature to fit with the setting of the Wild West, but not be overexposed. "In general, we felt like with this story, the less you saw, the scarier it was," Tammi explained. "I think that's also just my personal taste. I love horror films that scare you with anticipation and don't always show the full boogieman, even though that can be fun too. I feel like once I see [a movie monster], I'm not as scared with it. I start to get familiar with it."

"The other challenge was the film is set in the 1800's," Tammi mused, "How do we create our version of the boogeyman that feels cinematically in line with what we are doing with the rest of the movie? And, how does it feel organic to the world and part of what Lizzy might be envisioning? That was really rooting it in the natural elements so shadows, smoke, fire, wind."

This concept came from Sutherland's real-life inspirations for Lizzy and Emma's story. "There were a lot of accounts of women losing their minds on the prairie during this time," Tammi explained. "And a lot of them chalked it up to the wind. There are really amazing journals and essays — that are now collated and accessible — that paint a picture of that time and space so vividly. These women were just so strong and endured so much that I think the loneliness and the melancholia and the maybe insanity that they experienced just felt really relatable."

"When you read these accounts of what their daily life was like — let alone a winter, let alone a year — you kind of think, 'How did they even stay as sane as they did?' This is a land and this is an experience that no human was ever meant to take on," she continued. "That does seem like a really fun jumping off point actually for a horror film. Because when you throw people in the middle of the space that is basically telling them to get out, it's a great jumping off point for the supernatural and horror elements."

Like so many horror heroines who've come before her, Lizzy tries to warn others of the danger she senses. But her husband ignores her concerns, which only empowers the evil that stalks her. "I think there is nothing worse than experiencing something awful and having the person closest to you in life not believe you," Tammi said. "I think that there are themes that are obviously cropping up in 2018. But I think throughout history that's just a betrayal of the highest level. It's like a secondary form of injury when you're not believed on top of it all. And then when it makes you second guess yourself, then that's a whole other level of turmoil that you go through."

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The Wind is not only a movie about women and for women but also one made by women. In addition to Tammi and Sutherland, the crew boasts production designers Hillary and Courtney Andujar, set decorator Elsbeth Mumm, and film editor Alexandra Amick. And by Tammi's estimate, about 60 percent of her crew was female, though that was more a matter of fortune than intention.  

"We didn't actually have even the time to be that intentional about it," she explained. "And at the end of the day, we just wanted the strongest partners in every component of this film. I think it lined up to be a lot of women because they were connecting with the story and were passionate about it. It was kind of an unintentional thing that ended up being a real serendipitous event because I hadn't been on a crew that had that percentage of women on it ever. And, it was just great."

"I'll say all the men that were involved with this were amazing as well and really embraced that this was a really female-driven story," Tammi concluded. "I think everyone really embraced that aspect of it."

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