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A fresh-faced environmentalist new to the frontline crusade against Tasmania’s ruthless logging practices has her inner beast unleashed in Devil Woman, an Aussie short-film riff on the werewolf legend that has had global festival crowds screaming in terrified delight. It is the brainchild of writer/director Heidi Lee Douglas, founder of Dark Lake Productions and one of Australia’s most socially aware filmmakers. Her work to date – the thriller Little Lamb (2014), documentary project Defendant 5 (2015) and striking music video Wish (2018) – offers rich insight and artistry in their exploration of gender identity, violence and environmental concerns. One of the sector's most pro-active advocates for diversity and equality, Douglas also presides as Co-Chair of the Australian chapter of Film Fatales, a global community of women feature film and television directors. 

Ahead of the Australian Premiere of Devil Woman at Monster Fest VII, Douglas (pictured, above; with actor Peter Healy) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about her film's origins, aims and place amongst the all-too-rarely explored genre of female-focussed transformative eco-horror…    

SCREEN-SPACE: Devil Woman is a modern spin on classic werewolf mythology. What other influences and inspirations helped gel the concept in your mind?

DOUGLAS: I got the original idea back in 2007, when I was involved with the Tasmanian forest campaigns as a documentary filmmaker [at the time] the Tasmanian Devil facial tumour outbreak was discovered. It’s a horrifying, fatal disease; brutal in the way its cancerous ulcerations are transmitted via biting. I was travelling regularly through backwater logging towns that had a very ‘gothic frontier’ nature and almost post-apocalyptic blockade-style camps, and would witness violent confrontations between loggers and activists. 28 Days Later was the biggest stylistic influence to the original concept, and then I discovered Night of The Living Dead and Dawn of The Dead, which have the tradition of a zombie/contagion film with social issues as subtext. The werewolf/ transformation narrative was originally inspired by the analysis of folk tales in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With The Wolves. Women transforming into animals to discover their true animalistic strength and power - I love that type of mythic storytelling. (pictured, above; actress Marigold Pazar as 'Eddy')

SCREEN-SPACE: Like all great horror films, Devil Woman tackles bigger issues as well as delivering the frights. You explore toxic masculinity, wide-eyed conservationists, and gender stereotypes across both sexes. Did you go with an attack plan?

DOUGLAS: I wanted to show the tough-as-nails women at blockade camps, which I had never seen represented on screen. Their isolation when up against these burly, angry loggers in real life is very scary and very loaded. The lead character ‘Eddy’ is a fish-out-of-water science student based on my own experience turning up to my first blockade as a student filmmaker, at Timbarra Gold Mine back in 1999. The film’s coda hints that we need to look beyond gender or any other political divides, because if we continue on a path of environmental destruction an apocalypse won’t discriminate. I’m thinking of the 1000 people still missing in the Californian wildfires right now. That is real life horror, real tragedy. Yet President Trump still denies climate change. (Pictured, above; Peter Healy as 'Reilly')

SCREEN-SPACE: The film is both a down’n’dirty bushland yarn and an extremely polished piece of filmmaking – shot in widescreen, against beautiful locations. Tell me about crafting the film’s aesthetic.

DOUGLAS: I looked at the way 28 Days Later and Children of Men were shot, to create that immediate, visceral, documentary-like experience of being in the world with the characters. I used scale in the frame to emphasis power, and colour palette to underlie transformation. Because my background is in documentary and editing I think in terms of coverage and how it will cut together, whilst Director of Photography Meg White (pictured, right) ensured it was also cinematic. We looked at Australian colonial art to think about representation of the forest in daylight, and what makes the Australian forest landscapes unique and scary. We used smoke haze on set in the camp to create texture. For the colour grade I was inspired by Deliverance to subtly reinforce humans as animals within the wilderness. The score was inspired by Dead Man using sparing rawness to imbue an isolated frontier feeling. The location is a main character in the story, so getting that right was very important. I couldn’t shoot it in Tasmania so I had to find a suitable location in regional NSW. Nerissa Davis and Alice Cregan, who brought first hand experience in logging blockades in Tasmania, ran the Art Department. They nailed the production design, which was important for authenticity.

SCREEN-SPACE: It’s an intrinsically Australian film, yet it’s travelling well, finding favour with festival programmers worldwide, having played London's FrightFest and Fantasia in Montreal, to name just two. The terrifically staged horror sequences aside, what are the elements that are resonating?

DOUGLAS: The thought provoking themes, the gritty score by my brother Ben Douglas, Meg White’s superb cinematography, the twists and turns in the plot. Audiences come away wanting a feature version, which is encouraging. There are some amazing films in the eco-horror sub genre such as The Birds, Godzilla, The Thing and Jaws. I reckon it’s a sub genre that’s ripe for modern exploration, and the reaction from audiences, film programmers and the film industry to Devil Woman suggests I’m right.

DEVIL WOMAN will screen Friday November 23 at Monster Fest VII at Carlton’s Cinema Nova. Full ticket and session details are at the festival’s official website.

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