Against 'The Wind': Filmmaker Emma Tammi's horror Western channels women's fears
The affliction was known as “prairie madness,” with 19th-century settlers on the Great Plains suffering from depression, withdrawal, paranoia and even violence.
And the extreme levels of isolation, the bleakness of the landscape and the harshness of the weather — especially the incessant wind — were often cited as causes.
“I grew up in New York City and I live in Los Angeles now — and my mom’s from Oklahoma City and even going there a bunch growing up — these are all very populated areas. I just found something really engaging about getting into an environment where you saw so few people and trying to imagine what that might be like,” said filmmaker Emma Tammi.
“We as human beings really need other people to thrive and stay sane and really exist. And when you remove that element, our very core really gets rattled quickly. And I think that we explore that in this movie.”
After premiering at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, Tammi’s feature film directorial debut “The Wind” opens Friday at OKC’s Rodeo Cinema. The Western horror story centers on Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard), a capable woman carving out a life alongside her God-fearing husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) on the American frontier. The arrival of newcomers Emma and Gideon Harper (Julia Goldani Telles and Dylan McTee) sets off a harrowing chain of events.
“She’s being terrorized, but at the end of the day, she’s not sure by what. She’s not sure if it’s by herself, by her own inner demons, or by something supernatural that’s out there on the plains. So, we wanted to be on that ride with her, and I think as viewers questioning whether something’s real or not, it helps put us in her shoes,” Tammi said.
Although “The Wind” is her solo directorial effort — she co-directed the documentaries “Election Day: Lens Across America” (2017) and “Fair Chase” (2014) — Tammi has experience relating to actors, especially her parents, Marcia and Tom Tammi. Before she moved to New York in the 1970s to pursue her acting career, Marcia Tammi was an Oklahoma City girl whose father, Homer Hyde, founded the Hyde Drug chain.
“I would go there every summer growing up and it’s one of my favorite places,” the filmmaker said of OKC. “I also just feel like on some level, the plains — at one point, we were even thinking about shooting in Oklahoma, and I had my uncle sending me pictures of potential locations – and I think the vastness of the horizons and the sky … is also some of my childhood memories of being in Oklahoma.”
Tammi lensed her Western chiller in New Mexico, where she filmed “Fair Chase.” Her experience on that documentary was one factor in the producers bringing her Teresa Sutherland’s screenplay.
“One of the reasons Chris Alender, one of our producers, had originally asked me to read the script was he really felt like this should be directed by a female,” Tammi said.
“From there, we kept looking for crew and creatives … really based on our timeline and our budget. And I think a lot of women really gravitated towards this story and were excited by it, and it kind of ended up working out that a lot of women worked on it.”
She wanted to use iconic cinematic imagery — the lone cowboy riding across the prairie on horseback with the sun setting behind him, for instance — in telling a Western from a little-seen angle.
“What I thought was so great about Teresa Sutherland’s script was that she just basically turned the camera 180 degrees and just stayed with the women on the homestead. In some ways, it feels like such an obvious thing to at least make a couple of movies about not following the men … and yet I had never seen that movie before” Tammi said. “It was so simple in terms of its reinvention and really made it feel fresh and exciting.”