Horror fan Anthony Conti has stage four kidney cancer, but thanks to the Make A Film Foundation, his short film The Black Ghiandola, starring Depp, Lynch, Laura Dern and JK Simmons, is in post-production.
It was also co-directed by three massive Hollywood names — Evil Dead director Sam Raimi, Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke and St Vincent director Ted Melfi — during the five-day shoot.
The synopsis of the film, which Conti wrote himself, reads: ‘The Black Ghiandola centers on a young man, played by Anthony Conti, who risks his life to save the girl he loves, after his family is wiped out during a zombie apocalypse.’
Conti, who lives in Hollywood, already had experience making his own comedy/sci-fi YouTube series, The Satanic Zucchini Show.
He later managed to get this new project off the ground after contacting Make A Film Foundation to get hold of a copy of one of their other movies.
Writing The Black Ghiandola apparently helped Conti fight his cancer, and stars involved in the project have paid tribute to the ‘courageous’ youngster in touching a video from the foundation.
The teen also uploaded a shot of the letter he received from the American Film Institute telling him Sam Raimi would be directing his movie, which must have been a huge moment for him.
Conti, who is undergoing chemotherapy, received financial help from dozens of Hollywood businesses, including channel AMC who make his fave show The Walking Dead, plus family members and online supporters.
Snaps from the set of the film show just how much fun all those taking part had, and how much fake blood was deployed, too.
Depp appears to be playing a doctor who gets attacked by flesh-eating zombies, a role he no doubt relished.
This debut film follows 15-year-old Bia and her friends as they grow up in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro. As the girls try to navigate the usual pitfalls of puberty, a wave of murders sweeps the city and bodies begin to appear in the group’s usual stomping grounds. What starts as morbid curiosity slowly starts to infect their young lives, and after an encounter with death, Bia will do anything to stay alive. This audacious vision announces filmmaker Anita Rocha da Silveira as a rising talent whose mastery of dark subject matter is strikingly bold and altogether entertaining. The production, packed with killer performances from its young cast and brilliant music, is a giallo-tinged take on puberty and the experience of living in a girl’s body. As it reaches its tense conclusion, the alchemy of styles creates something fiercely original.
AFI spoke to the director about the film, which screens as part of AFI FEST 2016’s New Auteurs section.
AFI: Your film plays cleverly with horror film references. What inspired you?
Anita Rocha da Silveira: I’m particularly fond of David Lynch. The TWIN PEAKS pilot and BLUE VELVET were very important references. He inspired me to create an alternative universe where I could exaggerate the tones. Most importantly, however, I like the way he portrays flaming desire within a society that’s doomed to fail. I think mostly in characters such as Donna Hayward [on TWIN PEAKS], who feel everything so intensely that they seem just about to faint.
I’m also a fan of Dario Argento and got some inspiration from films like THE STENDHAL SYNDROME. Other essential references are Brian De Palma’s CARRIE, Jacques Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE and Claire Denis’s TROUBLE EVERY DAY. Some might not consider TROUBLE EVERY DAY a genre piece but, for me, it’s one of the greatest films of the 21st century and an amazing modern vampire tale.
AFI: Your lead actor Valentina Herszage is an incredible discovery and a real-life high-schooler. Talk about your collaboration.
ARDS: It was very important to be able to work with teens of the same age as the characters. I didn’t want a 20-year-old playing a 15-year-old girl. I wanted to find teens who were going through similar dilemmas, [and had] faces that carried the marks of a stage in our lives when our bodies are constantly changing.
We knew we needed to find new talents, so we announced the casting call in drama classes and on Facebook. We saw around 300 girls in our first audition, then I picked 50 for a more specific activity. I finally came down to 13 for one last audition, from which I chose the leading role and the supporting characters.
Valentina was 15 years old during the shoot, and she fascinated me because of her love for horror movies — her favorite is THE SHINING. Other actresses were more prepared but she was fearless and that kind of energy was fundamental to the character. Together, we talked about sexuality, desires, experiences with death, violent impulses. She was always completely committed.
AFI: Did the themes of religion come from your own personal upbringing, or did they erupt from the setting of the film?
ARDS: In Brazil, we’ve been seeing evangelical churches grow at an exponential rate. It’s the fastest growing religion in the country. Every election year we see the evangelical bench in congress increase, as well as the rise of conservative thought, along with the daily attack on women’s and LGBT rights.
We have several evangelical churches here, following different trends. For KILL ME PLEASE, I took my inspiration from a real church, with a big temple in the area where I shot, which targets a younger public. This church has teenage pastors, uses surf boards as altars and also pop music to attract followers. For me it was important to show the church because it’s part of the lives of many Brazilian youths, and also a counterpoint to [lead character] Bia’s desires and wishes. It represents a conservative discourse I’m fed up with, mostly about how a woman is supposed to behave.
Free tickets for KILL ME PLEASE will be available on AFI.com beginning November 1.
Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed at the Egyptian Theatre, AFI film festival, Hollywood, Calif.
Eraserhead, directed by David Lynch, the 2010 AFIfest’s guest director, continues to mesmerize audiences with its stark portrayal of the many all too human desires. As NY Times’ Manohla Dargis so eloquently writes “The black-and-white world of Eraserhead disturbs, seduces and even shocks with images that are alternately discomforting, even physically off-putting. It also amuses with scenes of preposterous, macabre comedy, among them a memorable family dinner involving a cooked bird that wiggles obscenely on its plate while it gushes forth a menacing dark liquid.” Consequently, Henry Spencer, played by John Nance is informed that he has fathered a child with girlfriend Mary X, played by Charlotte Stewart. However, the child is born as a mutated fetus. The doctors aren’t even sure the baby is human any longer. The baby appears with shuffling eyes and a bulbous wet head that looks like a skinned lamb and just lies on a table, cackling and cooing – more an emblem of dread than a bundle of joy. Henry and Mary move into Henry’s single-room apartment where the baby’s constant crying keeps them awake at night. Their existence is dominated by the overwhelming banality of Henry’s single apartment and its outlook onto a brick wall. Eventually, Mary walks out, leaving Henry with sole charge of the baby. Henry is left with what is some men’s greatest nightmare – of being left with the sole responsibility for raising an unwanted child.
Throughout Eraserhead, Lynch plays with a good deal of sexual imagery and sexual energy which seems to be the through action of the film. In the opening moments, we see Henry floating through space dreaming and what look like sperm emerging from his mouth. When domestic life with the baby starts going wrong, Henry is seen pulling sperm out of the sleeping Mary’s mouth as though trying to symbolically reverse the pregnancy. The sex in the film seems tinged with disgust – Henry’s future mother-in-law questions Henry about whether he and Mary have had sexual intercourse and proceeds to come onto Henry by slobbering on his check and neck. Later Henry hooks up with the seductive, attractive woman from across the hallway. However, Henry’s bed turns into a glowing swamp. Henry’s pick up attempt comes full circle as he sees the woman seducing another man. She teasingly turns to Henry and laughs at him somewhat menacingly. The only happiness Henry seems to find is in his radiator dream-land where a girl with puffy pock-cheeked cabaret-style dancer nervously sings and moves on stage as sperm drop on her. Perhaps as Richard Schieb suggests “this latter seems to be arguing that masturbation is the only safe form of sex – certainly, this would seem to be the case at the climax of the film, which sees Henry going off to join the pure and innocent puff-cheeked girl in radiator dream-land in a blaze of white light that may be the hereafter.” And who is the mysterious man depicted at the beginning and at the end of the film? He appears to be “the man behind the curtain” pulling the lever that controls Henry’s fate. Moreover, he quite possibly may represent Henry’s bloodline with his disfigured appearance shadowed by the flying sperm-like images. Or, maybe he represents a higher duality of fear and omniscience as Henry, in the opening scene, is seen confessing a wrongdoing and receiving forgiveness. This first scene sets the tone for Eraserhead. It is open to your interpretation.
Eraserhead certainly defies any type of classification. Lynch literally seems to have tapped into his subconscious. He uses dreams and dream-like imagery. Overall, Eraserhead seems to symbolize industrial dehumanization to a post-holocaust nuclear proliferation era with powerful sexual overtones. Henry lives in the midst of an industrial wasteland. The only views we get of the outside world are of cold, dirty factories. The only greenery we see is in Henry’s room consisting of two piles of dirt, one on his dresser and one on his bedside table where branches have sprouted. And, as Scheib so poignantly asks, “What do the pencil erasers represent – do they, as some pedantic academic suggested, symbolically represent the mind’s ability to repress or ‘erase’ matter?” Indeed.
Eraserhead was produced by the American Film Institute (AFI). AFI is known for its Lifetime Achievement Awards and for its production of over 250 short films. Eraserhead appeared at the 1976 Chicago International Film Festival, at the Filmex Film Festival in 1977 and at the 1978 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival garnering the Antennae II Award. In 2004, The USA National Film Preservation Board named Eraserhead to the National Film Registry. It took Mr. Lynch five years to complete it. Other notable films by Mr. Lynch include Mulholland Drive (2001), Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks: Firewalk with Me (1992). Recommended.