EXCLUSIVE: CARLO MIRABELLA-DAVIS ON SWALLOW, PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA AND IMPORTANCE OF CINEMA IN CURRENT CLIMATES
To celebrate the release of the incredible new psychological thriller/horror Swallow, which is available to rent on VOD platforms now, our man Scott J. Davis sat down with the film’s writer/director Carlo Mirabella-Davis to discuss its genesis, subject matter, Haley Bennett’s exquisite performance and how cinema can help us all in these troubled times…
Scott J. Davis: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us and congratulations on the film. You must be delighted with the response to the film from audiences and critics so far?
Carlo Mirabella-Davis: It’s just been wonderful. I’ve been so extremely moved and gratified by everybody’s response to the film, both with audience responses that I’ve been reading online and people that I’ve met at the various film festivals that we’ve brought the movie to but also the incredible press. I’ve been so grateful and moved by all the fascinating articles that film critics are writing about the film so it’s been truly wonderful to see.
SJD The film has just been released online for audiences to view all over the world. How happy have you been with the platform release given the current climate that has caused cinemas to close?
CMD: I just want people to see the film in whatever capacity. We were set to open in, I think about 38 screens across the USA and then everything shut down. And I was incredibly grateful to the amazing IFC Films for deciding to put the film simultaneously online. I think the movie has really found its audience through VOD and people watching it and sharing their thoughts and reviews on Twitter about it and so that’s been fortunate that the movie has was also been put online so people can can experience it and I hope it, it, it’s something that brings some people solace.
SJD: I was reading about the kind of genesis of the movie and how the story and narrative was quite close to your family and your grandmother I believe. When did you decide that now is the time to make it?
CMD: My grandmother who was a homemaker in the 1950s in an unhappy marriage who developed various rituals of control, [an] obsessive hand washer, who would go through four bars of soap a day and 12 bottles of rubbing alcohol a week. And I think she was looking for order in her life and she felt increasingly powerless. My grandfather, at the encouragement of the doctors, put her into a mental institution where she received electroshock therapy, insulin therapy and shock therapy and a non consensual lobotomy. And I always felt that there was something punitive about it that she was being punished in a way for not living up to society’s expectations of what they felt a wife or a mother should be.
SJD: Which do you find more challenging, writing or directing?
CMD: They’re both incredible experiences. When you’re writing, you’re kind of isolated in your lair, tinkering and there’s this incredible flow where you just you’re sort of communing with the unknown and this story pours out of you onto the page. It’s a little bit like conjuring a creature from the void.But then there’s something incredible what happens when you’re directing, this miracle with all these marvellous artists, they enter into your universe and you get to see your story through their eyes and there’s this incredible joy of collaboration with phenomenal actors and artists who breathe life into your characters.
SJD: Haley Bennett is extraordinary in the film. How did she come into your thinking and why did she turn out to be perfect to play Hunter?
CMD: Well I totally agree with you, she just delivers an earth shattering performance. My amazing casting director Allison Twardziak suggested Haley and I thought to myself, I want to see her in a lead role that was daring and bold and a little different from what she’d done before. So I wrote her a letter, offering her the role and I just figured, you know, I’d never hear from her. But then, miraculously she agreed to meet with me. And right away there was a meeting of minds, this sort of telepathic bond where we instantly became inspired. One of the things about Hunter is that she has to convey so much of the emotional narrative arc through her face: she’s interacting in the film without dialogue and she has an incredible micro calibration over her features and can tell whole novels with just the emotions in her eyes and the movement of her facial expressions.
SJD: How difficult is it to make a film like this on a small, independent budget? Does not having millions of dollars help to give the film a unique energy that you may not have got with a larger scale production?
CMD: It’s interesting. One of the things they don’t often teach you enough in film school is the incredible importance of producers and how sacred the bond is between the directors and producers. And when you have amazing producers like I did in Mollye Asher and Mynette Louie you really do have the freedom to do what you want, regardless of the budget because necessity often becomes the mother of invention and great producers will figure out a way to achieve the vision that you want on budget restrictions. Having said that, this is always the way that I’ve operated, I’ve never had the situation where someone’s like “Here’s $300 million. Do whatever you want!” – I certainly would like to try that one day but I’m so very grateful that I had such amazing producers and investors who really allowed us to make this happen.
Related: Film Review – Swallow (2019)
SD: Despite the current climates changing our cinema habits in the next few months, where do you land on the theatre vs streaming discussions given that it is ever changing across the world and people are watching films in different ways?
CMD: I think it’s important to support all aspects of how people see films and I’ve been very concerned with the recent outbreak that independent movie theatres will not be able to pay the rent through the sustained period and we may lose a lot of those incredible institutions which have supported independent film for a really long time. I love going to the movies and seeing a film in a beautiful theatre with a huge crowd because you can really feel the communal almost religious experience of experiencing a narrative with a group of people and you can feel the emotions move through the room. But at the same time I also think that watching the movie at home on VOD is a great experience and we designed the film to be able to be experienced in both of those systems and paradigms and online distribution does let the movie get out to a lot of people who may not be able to go to get out to a theatre. I’m just happy the film made it over the finish line and is available for people to see – we did have a theatrical run in France that lasted eight weeks in 98 screens. I just want people to see the movie and I’m grateful if they seek it out.
SJD: How important a role does cinema play in the current climate given people will be in their homes for the foreseeable future?
CMD: That’s a really interesting question. I think any kind of art or storytelling is vitally important in life and hugely important in moments of big upheaval and crisis. I think that, as many of us are trapped and isolated, storytelling and film – watching them, discussing them and communing with them – can help us weather this storm. I think movies can increase empathy, fight prejudice and can unite us. They have always been a way of helping us process our experiences and I think films can be hugely cathartic in that way. So I think all art and cinema is important for people to help us cope with all of this.