By Ozzi Ramirez
Let’s all give a huge NYWIFT welcome to Katherine Allen! Based in Brooklyn, Katherine Allen is a filmmaker whose artistry often addresses the theme of discomfort and include aspects of Magikal Surrealism, horror, and the macabre.
Some of her film projects include L’alphabête Noire (currently in development), The Widow’s Hand, Renaissance of Strings, Paper Doves (a music video for the band Submarine Bells), and Girl with the Haunted House Tattoo (a music video or the band The Long Lasts). Outside of filmmaking, some of Katherine’s hobbies are photography and occasionally lurking about during a dark moon.
Learn more about Katherine as we converse about her knack for embracing nitty gritty emotions and translating them into art, audiences’ attraction to films that blend fairytale elements with horror, her grandfather’s ongoing influence on her craft, and the spellbinding qualities of seemingly ordinary objects!
Describe yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
I am a conjuror of stories that hide deep in the subconscious. I blend surrealism, magikal (not a typo- it’s spelled with a “K”) horror, and dark humor to open portals to unusual worlds, which I hope even Lydia Deetz would approve. Oh, and I’m left-handed, which means I’m sinister.
You’ve said, “I regurgitate nightmares and channel exquisite dreams in the same breath. I make films that will leave you sticky with alacrity.”
Can you elaborate on the importance of artists being able to regurgitate their nightmares and channel their exquisite dreams? How has embracing the darker aspects of your creativity served your artistry?
Fumbling around in the dark and dredging up the unexpected challenges me to use light in more experimental ways. Sometimes that’s literal, but more often, this is about humor. The darker my subject matter, the more in tune I need to be with how much lightness is needed for others to see the same beauty that I see in the grotesque. I’ve never understood films that take place solely in the “Swamps of Sadness.” I hope my films will open people up, not drown them.
Whether it is through earlier classics such as Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and The Red Shoes or more modern films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pan’s Labyrinth, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Lure, and Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, audiences seem to be riveted by films that combine horror and fairytale elements.
What are your thoughts on moviegoers’ intrigue with this storytelling style, and where do you feel it stems from? Can you tell us about The Widow’s Hand?
For me, this genre speaks to the inner child that wants to be taken into a fantasy – but also scared a little – but mostly entertained. Horror has always been linked to fairytales as a way of processing real-life tragedies, so these fairytales for adults let us dive a little deeper while still having fun.
The Widow’s Hand is a trilogy of surrealistic horror shorts that re-imagine three well-known tales: Sleeping Beauty, Hansel & Gretel, and Bluebeard. Each story is ruled by one of the Fates: Hysteria, Phantasma, and Inferna. Since fairytales were originally told by women, but co-opted by men, The Widow’s Hand explores the perspective of a woman and what she might have focused on during the telling of each story.
Working under the pseudonym of Lucretia Grimm, the black sheep of fairytale royalty, I am grounding these tales in a more authentic psychological horror.
As a photographer, your ability to capture the essence of inanimate objects and infuse them with life is remarkable. For instance, your Umbrella Book consisting of some extraordinary photographs you captured of abandoned umbrellas strewn across the streets of NYC, evokes a sense of melancholy and wonder.
What attracts you to objects that others would consider mundane? More importantly, how do you transform these objects through your art? Is the magic in the photographs or the objects themselves?
I’ve always been an animist, so what I might find mundane are things like routines or paperwork. Objects, to me, almost always have life to them. If they want to be seen, they will then call me. Although this might be my own delusion, it’s part of the process. The glimmer starts there, and then there is definitely magic in the taking of the photographs.
Photography is capturing a specific moment in the elusive element of time – the light, the mood, the speed of the photographer hitting the button, and the space in between where there is no control. I think it’s taken for granted how magical that is.
You’ve referenced your grandfather, a photographer, as an instrumental figure in your artistic journey. Which of his works do you feel the closest to and why?
There isn’t a particular photograph that speaks to me more than the others, but rather his body of work. His themes of trauma and reverence for the natural world have profoundly impacted me. My grandfather’s WWII photographs were kept hidden from me growing up in contrast to his post-war nature photography that adorned our walls and arrived as Christmas presents. Seeing the war through his eyes as an adult gave me a greater understanding of his art of the natural world and himself as a human. Combining these disparate worlds in my work is my way of continuing an ethereal conversation with him.
What is the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Best Advice: I’m not sure when I first heard this, but I always try to make the movie that I would want to see – not just on an intellectual level, but something that lights me up inside while I’m making it. If you can connect in that way to your story, others will.
Worst Advice: Any advice about what you should and shouldn’t do to succeed or what you need to do to make a good film. There might be the rare suggestion that rings true, but being an artist is a mostly individual path where “right” and “wrong” and “should” are irrelevant.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
I have been feeling a strong pull towards making more time for community – especially with other female creators in the industry. I know NYWIFT provides so much more than that, but that is what has brought me here.
How did the pandemic effect your work life?
It shook things up and made a mess, but ultimately it gave me space to nurture ideas I had neglected from being overworked.
What is next for Katherine Allen? Do you have any upcoming projects in development?
Yes! I am in post-production for the first part of my series, L’alphabête Noire, a nightmare alphabet for adults who aren’t afraid of the dark. You can check out the teaser at www.alphabetenoire.com.
I am also in early development on a narrative feature film titled, The Mardorom, a surreal gothic fairy-tale about trying to escape Death.
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