There is a new interview with Elizabeth about Witch Hunt, Lost and her new upcoming projects (First Kill and Outer Banks).
Playing as part of the Midnight strand, Witch Hunt received its world premiere at this year’s virtual SXSW film festival. Only the second feature film from filmmaker Elle Callahan, Witch Hunt is set in an alternative version of America, one in which magic and witchcraft exists and those that are blessed with the affinity for it are persecuted. The movie is a perfect allegory for what Trump’s America became, and even in his wake it offers some brilliant commentary on societal prejudices, and the need for institutional changes. Our SXSW review called Witch Hunt “beautifully realised” and remarked that Elle Callahan was “completely reinventing the underappreciated witch genre”.
The story follows a teenager, Claire (Gideon Adlon), and her family who help refugee witches across the border into Mexico. It’s a deadly dangerous task and one that causes Claire and her mother Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell) endless arguments; Claire herself does not believe in the cause. Her opinion begins to change however, after her family are charged with helping two young girls across the border. The female dominated film features some brilliant relationships, but it is the interplay between mother and daughter that really stands apart.
Playing one half of this central duo is Lost star Elizabeth Mitchell. Mitchell plays the matriarch of the family and her drive to do good is inspiring. In the role of Martha we have a very strong and capable woman whose desire to help others eclipses everything, even her own children’s safety. This determination is a familiar trait to some of Mitchell’s past roles and it’s clear to see why Callahan pursued her for the part. Ahead of Witch Hunt arriving in the UK on Digital and DVD we were able to discuss the project with Mitchell. We spoke of what drew her to the project, the freedom of collaboration, the important message Witch Hunt is trying to communicate, and the small problem of bats.
Can you recall what it was about the script for Witch Hunt that made you want to be a part of it?
About three or years ago I realised that I hadn’t been working with very many female filmmakers. I thought, “that can’t be right, there has to be a lot of them out there that I just haven’t met”. So when I was offered Witch Hunt with Elle, I didn’t need more than that. I spoke with Elle for maybe about an hour and instantly liked her. I liked her strength, I liked her conviction, I liked her kindness. I was so excited to work with her.
It’s a little hard to believe that Witch Hunt is only Elle Callahan’s second feature film, how was she as a collaborator?
She is collaborative, but she also commands a set. What I mean by that is, you know who is directing. You know that she knows what she wants, you know she is precise in the world that she is creating, but she does it in a firm but gentle way. She never raised her voice. I wish other people could do what she does. If we had a question, if we had improved she’d say of course. If something wasn’t working she would be very upfront and say that isn’t working, and how do we make it work. We would all work together to make that happen. She really left us feeling very empowered, and at the same time she very much ran the set. You can’t understand the release of pressure that is for your crew and your cast to have someone with such a vision, who shows that with firm and well organised grace.
I feel like I wished it into being. It was so incredible. We sat up and talked about being women in our world late into the night. Everyone shared stories about their experiences, about what had happened in their lives to bring them to where we are. It was very nurturing. There was a lot of laughter. Again it was a wonderful collaboration, it wasn’t like, “well I’m doing it this way”, it was much more along the lines of “how about we do this?” and “yeah that works for me”, or “yes let’s do that AND…” so there were a lot of “yes, ands”, which is really quite rare. It’s never been quite this collaborative on the shows I’ve worked on. I loved all the women. They’re so strong. So interesting, and they came into it with their characters formed and their work done, so we really just got to play. Even when the bats were there (laughs).
I read that you’d had a bit of a bat problem on set, how did you handle that?
I think it was hard for Elle, but we just laughed and made it work. I thought they were hilarious. Everyone had a different response to the bats. I would stay in front of the camera and if a bat went by I’d just wait, and then when it had gone, would start again. Gideon was hilarious, she kept running around screaming and recording videos. They weren’t shy, those little guys that were trapped in there. I think for Elle it was very hard, but she was so calm. I’ve seen how other directors handle that sort of stress less gracefully, but that wasn’t Elle. She just never lost her cool and that’s exactly what you want in a director, someone who can be flexible. There’s something they tell you in martial arts about if you are stiff, if you don’t bend in the breeze you’re going to get hurt. Elle’s like that, she bends in the breeze, but she remains strong.
You’ve made a career out of playing some strong-willed women, Martha being another. What connected you to her character and how did you prepare to play her?
I’ve played a lot of damaged women. Women who are struggling to control their lives, just doing the best they can. Here I really saw her as a hero. To see her own, and her children’s lives at risk, to do what she felt was right is just so heroic. I thought that she was captivating from the minute I read her. I think the real heroes of the world are those who everyday are fighting for what is right without any fanfare and that’s exactly what we have here. Just a woman doing the best she can to help. That’s a true hero.
Thelma and Louise just celebrated its thirty year anniversary. The film plays a key role in Witch Hunt, why do you think that the film still resonates so much with audiences today?
It really does stand up. It’s sisterhood. It’s empowering, it’s women taking a stand together against the world. People always love rebels. We have such a strong need to have people conform. But in film we don’t really like those that play by the rules. We much prefer the person with the independent thoughts and ideas. I like that. That’s what drew me to Thelma and Louise, and that’s also what drew me to these characters. I love that strength, I love the freedom, I love the wildness, the freedom, and I love that ability to say, “no that’s not right. My heart, my soul, my mind, they all tell me this is wrong, and so this is what I want.”
Witch Hunt explores some very topical issues through this veil of supernatural fiction, its complexity with what it’s trying to say could almost be studied in schools. Are you hopeful that the film might help to educate some people?
Yeah. I always say there’s a little bit of medicine in the sugar. It’s a way through entertainment of exposing how we feel. I think films can take us outside of ourselves and allow us to look at things from a different perspective and say, “oh wait, maybe that’s how this person must feel. I hadn’t thought of that before”. It’s a way through entertainment that opens our eyes to a new way of thinking. I think this film does that for sure, it throws light on these things and says, “let’s talk about it”. You don’t often get that. That ability to translate these complex issues through this story is very powerful I think.
Lost was probably one of the first modern shows that proved that television could be as big an event as movies, what was it about the series that made it so magic?
I always go back to Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams. I think that they created a world that was so extraordinary. They were very accomplished, but I think what made it, the thing itself the greatest, was all of these characters. I joined the show in season three, but the whole first two seasons were just magic. When I joined the show I could see why. It was a group of people who came to work everyday and knew what they were doing. The directors were saying even though our budgets weren’t that big, there was a feeling that we were making a movie every week. It was big and it had all of these themes that explored this world. That idea of whoever was telling the story is the protagonist. Even if people hated what a certain character was doing, the fact that we had that situation where you got to see the world through everyone’s point of views, I think just changed the way we looked at these shows. But for me it was Damon and JJ. They were constantly creating, and were constantly inspired, and they never let it get out of control. The show ended well before they were out of ideas.
You’ve just been announced as being part of new Netflix series First Kill, it’s based on a short story and much like Witch Hunt offers something new, in this case a new vampiric love story. Is there anything you can share about your role in the show?
Talk about women, oh my goodness, all the people on the call sheet are female. The first four people on the call sheet are all women. We have female directors, female writers, and so many female characters. The world feels incredibly feminine, it’s similar to Elle’s in that way. My character is the matriarch of the vampires. I can’t tell you much about the story, but from what you’ve read and seen, it is a bit of a matriarchal take on the vampire world. I really love that. I also have Outer Banks coming out a little bit before that. That character, she’s a real piece of work and maybe isn’t going to do much good for women (laughs), but I just feel so fortunate to be involved in all these shows and to have been able to continue to work through these times.
Signature Entertainment presents Witch Hunt on DVD and Digital Platforms on 5th July.