Originally published by (re)Search My Trash, December 2016
On the first look, it’s a perfect tableau of a perfect family… but only on first look, once one digs a little deeper one finds secret upon secret, from slightly incestuous cravings to possible murder in fact. But the more one digs, the more one digs up, going back for generations, and in fact to the original sin and Adam and Eve themselves.
Now I have to be totally honest, this might not be the best synopsis of The Kingdom of Shadows, as the film is not so much a narrative movie as one one has to feel oneself through, using the powers of imagination and association to fill in the (intentional) gaps – and all of this works very much in favour of the movie here, a film that does never try to make perfect sense, instead using impressive, often tableau-like imagery to get its point across, with the pictures (including long static camera shots) often looking very staged and almost silent movie-like, while perfect use is made of the old-fashioned sets and uses old-fashioned effects to heighten the out-of-time feel of the film. Sure, a film like this might not be for everybody, but those with open minds are up for a fascinating journey.
MICHAEL: Even though we have talked about it before, do bring us up to speed: Your new movie The Kingdom Of Shadows – in a few words, what is it about?
DANIEL & CLARA: The Kingdom Of Shadows is a personal retelling of the biblical creation myth in which we explore how the psychological knots of our ancestors are passed on from one generation to the next. It draws upon mythology, dreams and the history of cinema. It is a mystical cinematic experience which stirs from the darkness the spirits of our ancestors and reawakens the horror of unresolved crimes and denied desires. You’ll see a family trapped in a house who are tormented by unseen forces, a lost figure desperately attempting to escape his crimes, two lovers drifting in eternal darkness and a hooded alchemist who seeks the key to inner transformation.
MICHAEL: Last time we spoke about The Kingdom Of Shadows, the film was still in pre-production – so how has the project evolved since then, story-wise, and how true did you remain to your original idea?
DANIEL & CLARA: The original script consisted of two sheets of paper with a list of scenes and lots of images from paintings and silent movies so even from the beginning it was clear that, rather than having a fixed plan for what the film would be, we had a map of the direction we would travel, we wanted to venture into an unexplored land and discover something new and unexpected at every step of the way. The Kingdom Of Shadows is exactly the film we set out to make but the final film is dressed in the most magical garments that we could never have imagined!
MICHAEL: The Kingdom Of Shadows revolves around a family with a rich and not always conflict free history – is any of the film’s story based on either of your families?
DANIEL & CLARA: The film is deeply tied to the stories of our ancestors, some of it directly, some of it indirectly. Many of the sequences are based on stories, vague memories and dreams, sometimes the line between true family history and imagined history becomes blurry and it is in this misty spot that The Kingdom Of Shadows exists.
MICHAEL: In many ways, The Kingdom Of Shadows looks and feels like a silent movie – does that filmmaking era hold a special place in your hearts, and to what extent have you actually been influenced by vintage movies?
DANIEL & CLARA: Our film springs from the mythic past and is about how the actions of the past still linger within us in the present, not only is this film an exploration of our own ancestors and the founding myths of our culture, but also the story and myths of cinema itself and how the images of cinema’s past emerge through the films we create today. The title of the film is taken from one of the earliest film reviews written by Maxim Gorky in 1896, his article starts with the following paragraph: “Last night I was in the Kingdom of Shadows. If you only knew how strange it is to be there. It is a world without sound, without colour. Every thing there—the earth, the trees, the people, the water and the air—is dipped in monotonous grey. Grey rays of the sun across the grey sky, grey eyes in grey faces, and the leaves of the trees are ashen grey. It is not life but its shadow, it is not motion but its soundless spectre.” For years we have thought about how mysterious and strange it must have been to see moving images projected for the first time, in our film we wanted to capture some of that mystery and connect with those early moments of cinematic creation. Our inspiration doesn’t come only from silent cinema though, we take inspiration from a great many films from the entire history of cinema, the history of cinema is the history of dreams, it is one of the arenas where the modern myths manifest and the imagination roams free. We are totally obsessed with this mysterious thing called cinema!
MICHAEL: You just have to talk about your wonderful location for a bit, and did you write your movie with it in mind already, and how did it influence the way you made your movie?
DANIEL & CLARA: The film was shot on location in Portugal and one of the central spaces we use is the old house. This house belongs to Clara’s grandmother and it had been closed up for many years since her grandfather died, part of the journey of this film has been about us both digging into our family history and exploring the shadowy corners where unspoken secrets lay, the creative process has been one of performing rituals of personal archeology. Making a film of this kind is like performing a séance, we call up spirits and unleash demons and once that doorway between worlds has been opened we must face up to phantoms and begin to heal them. We knew what we were getting into when we set about this journey and we did not jump into it lightly, for the last few years we have been involved in a deep psychological investigation which has laid the groundwork for this process. All the costumes and props used in the film belonged to several of our ancestors, with a few having a more recent personal history of being from our previous films. We wanted to make sure every single object, location etc was charged with a personal history, and that even though this wouldn’t be known to the audience, they might still feel it, something comes across.
MICHAEL: What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
DANIEL & CLARA: The Kingdom Of Shadows was shot without any sound at all, everything you hear in the final film was recorded in a studio, every breath, footsteps, thunder, everything. This approach to making the film enables us to work in a very unique way on set, while we are shooting we are behind the camera talking the actors through their actions, guiding them through the scenes. There weren’t any rehearsals at all, most performers arrived on set only having the vaguest sense of what they were getting into, we worked slightly differently with each performer depending on their personality and the type of character they were playing. Our process is very collaborative and requires trust on both sides, we direct clearly but the performer also brings so much, we want to allow space for them to also be creative. The film is a meeting place between their physicality and our imaginary world.
MICHAEL: Do talk about your cast, and why exactly these people?
DANIEL & CLARA: We worked with the most amazing group of people, none of the cast are trained actors but all of them are artists in their own right, we had dancers, poets, filmmakers, photographers and musicians. This was a key factor in the success of the production, all of them understand the creative process and were able to trust us and follow us on a journey that we couldn’t put into words. We were able to shoot with the most minimal amount of explanation, we gathered the cast together and then jumped right into filming without any rehearsal and it worked beautifully, everyone gave their all to this film and it comes across on screen.
MICHAEL: A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
DANIEL & CLARA: The shoot was very short so we had to conjure an atmosphere that would put everyone in the right state of mind and enable them to live in the world of the film. So we started the shoot with a guided meditation in which we took the cast back into their childhood homes and once there they made contact with the source of their creative spirit, from then on without talking we began filming and guided the performers through the scenes. It was intense but pure magic!
MICHAEL: The $64-question of course, when and where will your movie be released onto the general public?
DANIEL & CLARA: We finished the film in October 2016 and had the world premiere as a part of the Microcinema strand of the Cambridge Film Festival. Since then we have had an amazing screening at a cinema in Portugal, which sold out and was a great success, due to the demand we are having another screening in Porto on the 13th December. We have big plans for 2017, with our previous films we have focused primarily on festival screenings but it can often be hard when you make films like this, which fall in the gaps between genres and the usual festival categories, so we have decided to take matters into our own hands and book screenings directly with venues and film clubs. In March we will be doing a series of screening in the UK, after which we plan to take the film on a European tour.
MICHAEL: Any future projects you’d like to share?
DANIEL & CLARA: We are currently in post-production of another feature film called Black Sun, which is the first in a series of films exploring humankind’s relationship to darkness. It is a film about a descent into the depths of the soul and an investigation into the portrayal of female characters in European fairy tales, painting and literature. It will be finished early next year.
We are also in pre-production of an epic sci-fi infused mystery called Cloud Of Unknowing, which we will be shooting throughout 2017.
MICHAEL: Anything else you’re dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
DANIEL & CLARA: Alongside making films we also run FILM PANIC which is a magazine and series of screening events which showcases experimental and underground films, you can find out more on our facebook page here: www.facebook.com/filmpanic