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In the first of our FrightFest Glasgow Gore in the Store interview MOTHER SUPERIOR director Marie Alice Wolfszahn talks about being drawn to making a period horror film and why returning to Scotland will be a homecoming.


FRIGHTFEST: MOTHER SUPERIOR is your debut feature. How did you decide that this was the film you wanted to make?


MAW: I was drawn to making a period horror film dealing with a cult. I’ve been curious about faith and ideology for ages. The power of imagination fascinates me. Insofar, the connection between fascism and occultism is a theme that I have been researching for years. The existence of NS-devoted women’s movements was something new to me. So I decided to look deeper into this paradox.


Meanwhile Covid was raging and camps with conflicting positions teamed up - esoteric naturopaths who suddenly agreed with Trump; left-wing liberals who fell for ultra nationalist conspiracy theories. I was baffled and confused and reflected on how naively we put labels on values - good/evil, permitted/forbidden, rational/odd - and how many combination possibilities there are in fact. So it felt like a fitting time to pick up on the subject of “brown esotericism” and, more generally, to raise awareness of the danger that despicable world views may walk hand in hand with appealing ideals.


FF: How would you describe it?


MAW: It is a quest for self-discovery but on her journey, Sigrun is led astray. Her desire to belong overrides her moral compass. She opens herself to an insidious, warped truth with gruesomely false ideals.


The ending may be interpreted however one prefers – most people, I assume, will read it as a supernatural phenomenon. This is what the signs are hinting at, and it is a genre film after all. Nevertheless, there is also a realistic interpretation: Brainwashing and manipulation. This is even darker and where the warning is embedded.


FF: The film won Best Feature at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival 2022. Has that put more pressure on you, do you think?


No. Receiving these amazing awards (Best Feature and Best Director in fact) I couldn’t believe my ears!. It was a confidence boost and a reassurance that the team, the cast and I did something right. This was my first time working with experienced actors and directing long dialogue scenes. I was asking myself before if I have enough to offer that helps them bring these characters to live. But I realised there are many approaches, mine is empathy and sensitivity to everyone’s needs, and openness to the input of others. We were a really strong team and everyone was in it for the project and not for the (tiny) cash. There was a certain magic on set that made us all go the extra mile. Still, I’m incredibly humbled for such a huge recognition.



FF: You deal with themes that you call fictional reality: faith, fanaticism and ideology – and also historical family disfunction. Were there any personal experiences that you brought to the writing or filming process?


MAW: There is no personal experience or family history that would explain my interest in the topics of my film. If anything, my heritage being Austrian and growing up with the horrors of the 2nd WW but learning hardly anything about the mythological backbone of the NS ideology which I think is so crucial in order to understand how such an insane world view can take over.


As mentioned before, I’m highly fascinated by the power of imagination since I believe it influences all human motives. I always say we live in a grey zone between reality and fiction.


There is no objective truth as such - I don’t mean that there is ultimately no right or wrong but there is an explanation for every decision. Our values and world views depend on our upbringing, our influences. A person who stones a homosexual is terribly wrong but they are acting according to their personal truth. This is certainly not an excuse but the better we understand a narrative the easier it is to change it.


FF: You studied art in Edinburgh, so is FrightFest Glasgow a kind of homecoming for you?


MAW: Indeed, Scotland is a homecoming for me. My mother and I moved to Edinburgh when I was 15 and I went to school there for a year. Later on, I returned for my studies and graduated in Film at the ECA. I adore the wild nature and crazy weather, the gothic architecture with its overgrown graveyards and dark alleyways, the sinister folk stories and tragic song lyrics. Scotland has definitely left a strong impact and shaped me into who I am.


FF: The ending to the film suggests we haven’t seen the last of Sigrun. Are there plans for a sequel?


MAW: Funnily enough, there are plans for a kind of prequel. During my research I stumbled again and again upon the grandmother of esotericism as we understand this expression today - a spiritual teacher of the 19th century called Madame Blavatsky. There are photographs of her in the Baroness’ chambers in Mother Superior. There’s no film about Helena Blavatsky even though she has paved the way for all New Age movements we can think of nowadays. Her teachings are very controversial and she wasn’t necessarily a genuine person but her life story is spectacular and her theories are omnipresent. I’m not sure if this will be a biopic or more fiction, knowing myself it will explore the supernatural either way.


FF: 2022 was a great year for the genre. What have been your outstanding film choices?


MAW: The Innocents by Eskil Vogt, Luzifer by Peter Brunner, Huesera by Michelle Garza Cervera, Blaze by Del Kathryn Barton, Moloch by Nico van den Brink and Something in the Dirt by Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson.


FF: What’s next for you?


MAW: Apart from researching for the Madame Blavatsky film, I’m co-writing a Christmas folk horror with a wonderful US author called Elise Salomon. It picks up on the ancient myth of the Wild Hunt, an eerie procession of ghost riders in the winter skies. Again, there is a strong female character with rather ambivalent motives.


MOTHER SUPERIOR is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Friday 10 March, 6.45pm, as part of FrightFest Glasgow 2023. Marie Alice will be attending.



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