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IN CONVERSATION WITH
MADELEINE SIMS-FEWER AND DUSTY MANCINELLI’S

 

In Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s feature debut, VIOLATION, Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer) and her husband Caleb (Obi  Abili), visit her younger sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and brother-in-law Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe), at their secluded lakeside home in the Canadian woods. Troubled from a past trauma and on the edge of divorce, the family reunion takes a dark turn for Miriam when a slip in judgement leads to an act of betrayal. Fearing that her sister is in danger she commits an act of violent revenge, but she’s unprepared for the emotional and psychological toll.

 

In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli spoke about their personal experience of abuse and trauma, and the film as a safe space to discuss it.

 

FRIGHTFEST: Why film as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally?

 

MADELEINE SIMS-FEWER: I've always been interested in the arts, and it was always something I wanted to do. I could never settle on something I was not passionate about. Film is a way to combine my love of music, visual art, performance and photography in this one medium, and so it's the perfect expression for me.

 

DUSTY MANCINELLI: I've always wanted to be a filmmaker. My earliest memory is my dad with this old VHS camcorder, my being obsessed with it and trying to capture the world.

 

There's something safe about being on the other side of the camera, being able to build worlds and create spaces. You learn very early on as a filmmaker that the more personally connected you are to the material, the better the work is because you care more about it, and you're more passionate.

 

For us it has been a natural progression of trying to find ideas, topics and characters that we feel an emotional connection to, and have something to contribute to the conversations about those topics. Our friendship is founded on our shared histories of abuse and trauma in our past, and our short films together have dealt with very similar themes of power dynamics between men and women, abuse and trauma.

 

VIOLATION was the culmination of us trying to explore this idea of residual trauma, and how we can capture the visceral experience of post-traumatic stress for the audience - the manifestations of that in terms of the physicality, and the impact it has on someone's emotional and psychological unravelling. The inspiration for us was trying to talk about our own unique experiences and letting the film be a space for that.

 

We're huge fans of revenge films, we love what that genre does. It’s cathartic to go on this emotional journey where you feel elated by the end of the film, in the moment when the hero of the story enacts this gruesome revenge, but we’re more interested in its true nature.

 

MSF: What would it be like for myself or for you to get revenge? What would that look like? What does the grisly nature of revenge give you?

 

DM: What’s the toll that it takes on someone's morality? What’s the impact that it has on their relationships? This is what fascinated us, and why we were drawn to telling the story the way we told it.

 

FF: For the audience, a film can open doors to our memories, allowing us to understand ourselves more fully. Do you view cinema as a form of talking therapy for not only the filmmaker, but the audience as well?

 

MSF: It's so integral to what we're trying to do with all of our work. When we have watched revenge films and got something out of them, it's because we're seeing somebody, or a situation expressing something we feel deeply as people who have gone through trauma. To see that trauma on screen, to see it so open and bare, makes you feel you aren't alone.

 

DM: One thing we kept coming back to, and the reason why this is an anti-revenge film is that when you experience a trauma like this, it's very easy to fantasise about wanting to exact revenge. It's tantalising, but it's also a coping mechanism to ease the suffering that you feel.

 

The real consequence of revenge was something we felt we needed to focus our minds on, because it's so easy to get lost in this problematic idea that revenge will bring you closer to finding closure, and will heal your trauma, which is not true. It’s a false prophecy of the traditional revenge film. We love them, but it's not providing the best remedy for resolving your own internal turmoil, and for us the film was about that discovery.

 

MSF: What interests us is if film can make you think about not just stories and images, but about how you would deal with a situation. If a film can provoke some sort of argument in your own mind as an audience member, then that's effective.

 

DM: When we think of art and film as therapy, and just as an audience member, when you're able to connect with a character that otherwise you would never be able to connect with, or understand, it broadens your own perspective of the world.

 

MSF: And your capacity for empathy.

 

DM: At the heart of it, that's what we hope to do. Even if you've never experienced abuse in your past, or something traumatic, the film can hopefully simulate the experience in a safe setting, so that you can understand that level of anxiety and distress, and you’re more understanding towards someone in your life who has. Sometimes it's alienating when you've not experienced certain things, and that's the beauty of film. It’s transformative and it allows us to connect with others on a human level.

 

 

FF: VIOLATION reflects on how none of us are impervious to the pressure and stresses of life experiences, and each of us has a breaking point. We’re defined by our memories that cannot be erased. Vengeance is an impulsive act, a naïve attempt at ridding ourselves of hurt, that empowers the past trauma to define our future.

 

MSF: What does that amount of pressure do? What we were interested in exploring with Miriam and Greta is that they've both reached that point of too much pressure, and it brings different things to each of them.

 

DM: We’re drawn to Greek tragedy and the irony of it all is that the revenge doesn't create closure, but it now compounds things in a way that creates a new kind of trauma for Miriam. The act of actually going through with disposing of the body, what is the emotional and psychological toll that it takes on someone's psyche? It’s something that's left out of the genre simply because it's otherwise hard to sensationalise and romanticise the blood lust that we feel, and its celebration.

 

MSF: It feels like the revenge is the sigh of relief, that it's all over, and like at the end of a fairy tale where the princess finds her prince, it’s not the end, it's the beginning. We see revenge in the same way. It’s the beginning of this awful unravelling and compounding of trauma that just takes on a new level, and it’s just going to continue to perpetuate.

 

DM: Returning back to tragedy, there are all these instances in the film where you've seen the possibility of this going in a completely new, in a safe and positive direction. She [Miriam] leaves room for her brother-in-law to admit and acknowledge what he has done. There’s room for reconciliation in the tool shed when they're talking, but because he gas lights her, denying it and belittling her, we see the escalation, and the same is true with Greta. We see this moment where she's looking for support and she doesn't get it. She feels betrayed, and again we see how we could have gone a completely different path.

 

We're drawn to the tragedy of Miriam not learning. She's so mad, and she comes to this moment of clarity and realisation that she's completely destroyed her sister's life. It’s not going to fix her trauma or her in any way, and now she has a new problem. There's something really sad, but I find those stories to be fulfilling, simply because as an audience member you don't have to suffer in your own life, and you can hopefully recognise that revenge is not worth the consequences.

 

MSF: There's also this idea that every action, however small that these characters take, sets them on a path. Dylan mentions free will being an illusion and in a way it is, but we still have to live in that illusion, and we have to feel we're making choices. Every choice that they make just sets them on this path to tragedy and instability.

 

Paul Risker.

 

VIOLATION is streaming exclusively on Shudder.

 

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