Q&A: Executive Producer Olga Szymanska on “DEMON”Movies/TV,News Tony Timpone
Fresh from a successful festival run, DEMON, late director Marcin Wrona’s tale about a bridegroom (Israeli actor Itay Tiran) possessed by a dybukk during his wedding celebration, hits theaters in NYC and LA this Friday from The Orchard, with a national rollout to follow. Fans of bold, original art house horror with a humorous edge will cling to DEMON like this writer did. Fango spoke with the Polish film’s executive producer (and the director’s widow), Olga Szymanska, for an exclusive interview.
FANGORIA: How did DEMON first come about?
OLGA SZYMANSKA: Marcin wanted to touch on a Jewish story, and he was looking for inspiration in different places. We had seen several theater plays and read books that talked about the Holocaust and the situation of Polish Jews after the war.
FANG: What was the inspiration for the story?
SZYMANSKA: The script was inspired by the theater play THE CLINGING, which was performed in Warsaw Laboratory of Drama.
FANG: Is the film faithful to the stage version?
SZYMANSKA: The first version of the script was very close to the stage version, but we found it to be too theatrical. Marcin was looking for a solution on how to translate the play to a movie. At the end, he decided to set it on the wedding day and the day before which was in a way inspired by THE WEDDING, a play from the 1920s by Wyspiański [filmed by Andrzej Wajda in 1972]. Also the idea of the characters was inspired by it, and we wanted to show different social groups and their point of view on dybbuk phenomena.
FANG: How much research into Jewish folklore did the film require?
SZYMANSKA: We went through numerous books about dybbuk possession in the past as well as Jewish customs. We consulted the script with a Rabbi in Poland, but also with specialists of Yiddish culture. A lot of knowledge about Jewish customs came from our Israeli co-producer, as well as our Israeli actor Itay Tiran, who played the main role.
FANG: Were you and Marcin fans of horror films? Did you watch other films with dybbuks?
SZYMANSKA: There were no Polish horror movies in the past, while the European horrors were growing in strength. So when Marcin was looking for the way to show a dybbuk, his idea was to make it as a cross genre movie filmed in a horror manner. He didn’t want to be inspired by any of the horror film directors, as he wanted to make a unique movie which is based on Polish Jewish tradition. There was a lot of mysticism in the romantic period and in the beginning of the 20th century, so that is sort of where he was looking for inspiration. Obviously, there are references to THE SHINING both in Penderecki’s music, as well as in the picture at the end of the movie.
FANG: What were the sociopolitical messages and subversive angles that Marcin and you wanted the film to explore?
SZYMANSKA: The main theme in DEMON is erasing the past and how easy it was to forget thousands of years of Polish Jewish history. It obviously refers to World War II and Jewish extermination, but we wanted to say more about the present and how the inconvenient past wants to be forgotten.
FANG: Why was the protagonist of the story British as opposed to Polish?
SZYMANSKA: It was the idea that Python is a stranger to Janet’s family and the town. We wanted him to be someone out of nowhere, without family and with mysterious origins. We made him British as there was a big emigration during and right after World War II to England.
FANG: The country estate location is great. How did you find the place and what were the challenges of shooting there?
SZYMANSKA: We had looked for a location for a long time. We were dependent on a specific region as DEMON was partially financed by Regional Film Funds. It was extremely difficult to find a house and the land far from villages and towns. At the end, our production designer along with location manager discovered this old house by the river with stunning land and a ruined barn. We decided to restore the barn and make it a wedding place. On one hand, it was very comfortable to have everything set in one place, but on the other, we shot at nights and the nearest town was approximately 30 km [18.6 miles] away, so it was very tiring for the crew to spend entire nights there.
FANG: The last half of the movie is rain-soaked and largely shot at night. Any filming difficulties?
SZYMANSKA: It was extremely tiring. We shot in September so the nights are getting longer, but it is also getting cold. Actors were constantly wet. It was a huge challenge for the costume designers and makeup people to keep the continuity. We shot the film in only 23 days. It is very short for such a movie, but we knew that more days could become even more exhausting, as being at a haunted wedding has its limitations.
FANG: Deepest sympathies on the loss of your husband. Would the film’s ongoing international acclaim been a solace to him?
SZYMANSKA: I am very proud and happy that DEMON will be distributed in the US, and I believe that Marcin would be very excited by that fact as well as by the DEMON’s festival circuit [Toronto Film Festival, Fantasia, Fantastic Fest, New Directors/New Films, etc.], which is very impressive.
FANG: What is next for you as a producer?
SZYMANSKA: I finished working on the promotion of DEMON. I have two partners who also worked on DEMON, and we just started working on something completely new, which is now in an early stage of development. I also want to finish projects I had with Marcin, but I need some time off to catch some perspective before I will be able to continue working on those.
DEMON opens in select theaters on Friday, September 9th, from The Orchard.