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Interview with KATUNAR Director Dion Ventress

Director Dion Ventress

LEGLESSCORPSE: Your new film Katunar is a very ambitious film. Shooting in Kosovo people would assume is a risky move. What is the idea, ultimate goal for wanting to shoot in the Country?

DION VENTRESS: Having now been to Kosovo so many times within the last year, it’s interesting how little people know about it. I’m sure people initially thought I would be dodging bullets, grenades, barbed wire, it’s all pretty funny. Since the war and its independence people know so little about it. I almost daily answer the question, “What is it really like?”. In my words, it has to be one of the safest places I have ever been to in my life. It has such beautiful mountains you think the Von Trapp kids are going to come down from them at any moment. The food is great, and the people are totally nice. What is also interesting is how much media content they make for themselves, and fully support it. The best way to describe it is a Rubik’s Cube where you think you have figured it out because you solved a side, and the rest is all scrambled. You gotta love when people come out of their business to say hello to you. They don’t have lots of money, but rich in pride.

I was asked if I wanted to do an action film initially. Not typically the genre I write, but I had my own take on it, while making it very Albanian (the main language of Kosovo). Sadly the company folded, and I continued to finish the script (in a log cabin that look like it came out of a HEIDI film, on the outskirts of Prishtina, the main city). Everyone who read it thought it was excellent, so having a production background, I built alliances with other production companies there (and set up my own) to see if indeed you could actually do feature films in the country that could look just as good as any Hollywood product.

The film however is still a little pricy for a country with such rampant unemployment. So after some thought, it seemed logical to do a smaller budgeted film first, and a casual visit to a small town, I started developing KATUNAR which also was inspired by a friend saying I should do a horror film because there was no such thing in the country. This baffled me. Really? They have never made a horror??? So I was all over it.

LC:  Tell us a little about the story and where the concept came from?

DV: My friend Sefa wanted to take me to his hometown, outside of Prishtina. There we went to Kacanik, which is close to the border of Macedonia. It’s a cute little place, with a nice strip of cafes and shops, beside a river, and a weird cliff where I was told a railway line use to run to Bulgaria. Sefa also showed me this beautiful house in town he owned. I asked if I could film there and he said of course, so in my head I started working with what I had. A strange cliff/mountain, a cool river walkway, and a huge empty house. So basically I was given the props, and had to come up with the rest.

The story is about a girl named Adelina, who leaves Canada to return to Kosovo after her father’s passing. She finds out that she has inherited his house in the small town of Kacanik. While there, the house starts having paranormal activity. As she deals with that, locals also tell her a myth about the huge cliff at the edge of town having “cave holes” on top, where the legend has people still living since the war. After people start coming up dead, it’s a toss up in her head as to why. Does it have something to do with living in a “haunted house”? The mysterious legend of the hillbillys in the caves (KATUNAR is a literal Albanian translation of “Hillbilly”?

Poster art version 2

I can say the story basically came by two elements. In a Roger Corman sense, I was given certain things to work with (a house, a town, a creepy mountain), and worked from there. While writing it, I knew doing this I wouldn’t have tons of money to play with, so I liked things you can’t see. Also I hadn’t really seen a film where it tries to tie in rednecks, and paranormal activity. It definitely didn’t come from “Let’s try to remake that horror film I love”. There’s enough other people that can do that! LOL!

LC:  What do you feel sets this apart from other horror films that are currently out there?

DV: As I said earlier, it ties in elements that really haven’t crossed over… A paranormal activity meets Hills Have Eyes type of thing? Bad Ronald meets an episode of 90210? Just before Dawn mixed with Funeral Home?

While the set up I can admit is the oldest trick in the book (a woman inherits a house), from where that goes after they get IN the house is anybody’s guess. I always find my writing now with scripts leans a bit on the giallo side throwing in tons of red herrings where the script COULD be going, or who the killers COULD be. The one thing that always makes you hear the sad trombone with horror films is you can figure out the killer in the first 10 minutes. For me, that’s pretty pointless.

People beef on Roland Emmerich films because they think most of it is cliché ridden garbage. But the thing I can say with him is he might use every trick in the book, but he shows you a good time. I’m along the same line of throwing the audience tons of tricks, while showing you a good time.

The really obvious one as well is that this is a first. There has never been a horror film shot in Kosovo. Out of the handful of features that have been made in the country since Kosovo declared its independence, almost all of them have had to do with the war. The odd action movie comes from Albania, and the odd arthouse type thing. But if you were looking for a contemporary Albanian horror with young people dealing with creepy things, this will be a first.

LC:  For the gorehounds out there is this going to have some blood and guts, or more of a psychological horror films?

DV: I would say a bit of both, but I hate gore for the sake of being nauseating. I loathe a director like Takachi Miike who would concentrate on “style” (including how his gore scenes are staged) and would have a plot that sucked balls. For me what you don’t see is the most unnerving. Also to find a makeup artist who has done such effects in the country is next to impossible, so why make a bunch of hokey stuff that pulls down your story.

Speaking as well as someone who is very protective of Kosovo’s image, many of the people have seen things luckily we never have of a gory nature, so for that audience, it’s not really fun.

You can enjoy your burger, but sometimes you don’t need to see where it came from!
LC:  You’re currently seeking funds on indiegogo, obviously we feel people should donate just because of the sheer awesomeness that you’re shooting in Kosovo, but what kind of cool perks do you have for donating to the campaign?

DV: For our campaign, I only wanted to promise what I know I could deliver. I think there’s some cool unique ones like the streaming cam from on set. It like a baby monitor you can check out what we are doing! And how cool is it having your song or image or business to be in the first Albanian horror film? Or if you are the type to be curious to see the country, have my assistant take you around.

I really like the certificate which actually looks really beautiful and totally worth framing on your wall. When people ask what it is you get to say you helped make history with the first horror film in Kosovo. For such a small amount of money, you can say “I helped with that!”. None of us can say we helped in the funding of MICROSOFT, FACEBOOK, blah blah… so imagine being able to tell your friends, “Yeah, it’s because of me I helped kickstart feature film making in Kosovo”.

Again, there’s no false promises made with our campaign. So many friends I know that have funded things have never received anything and that’s somewhat sad. What we offer, is what we can deliver.

One can’t stress how actually important it is for the people there as well. People will get paid for working on this, and for the poorest country in Europe with a 45% unemployment rate, it’s really needed. I’ve built an alliance of people who are ready to work for your money, and deliver a film of theatrical quality. These are people that pride themselves on the quality of their work, and everyone is really excited to not only show you a horror film, but show you what Kosovo can do!

LC: If funding goes according to plan when would principle photography take place in Kosovo?

Primarily, we are looking to shoot in February or March. This is a crap shoot weather wise there. But being Canadian and raised on tons of tax shelter cinema that was made during these times, I love that particular “look”. Cronenberg’s “Rabid” and Egoyan’s “The Captive” both have a certain winter look that makes all Canadians laugh at just how “Canadian” those films look.

And cinematically, who has seen Kosovo in winter? Hahahahaha!

LC:  When would you expect the film to be complete for the masses to checkout?

As soon as the film is completed, it goes to editing, so being ready to sell at Cannes would be great. It’s funny film festival wise, I have had my eyes on the one festival which has always had an interest in my projects in Kosovo… NIGHT VISIONS in Helsinki, Finland. They have always had my back on what I wanted to do cinematically.

But again, we all just gotta do our part to make it happen. If I can somehow make Kosovo known as the new place for film production, I’M SO IN.




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Chad Armstrong

President/Co-Owner at LC Films
Chad Armstrong is a writer/producer/director who was born and raised in Long Beach CA. In 2009 he relocated to Alabama where he founded LeglessCorpse, a site dedicated to independent horror films, and soon after created the indie horror distribution company LeglessCorpse Films (currently known as LC Films). Not only is he co-owner of and LC Films he is also President of the newly formed Back Aisle Video label. Chad's most recent feature film is Deimosimine, and currently in development on the feature film Blood Dancers 2: Full Moon.