By Reem Shaddad
I first came across Jovanka Vuckovic’s diverse works about a year ago when my enjoyment of horror films took a turn for the obsessive. One of the most promising things about the genre was the undeniable burst of estrogen that had surfaced via a surge of talented female directors, cinematographers, actors and so on. Contemporary offspring of Mary Shelley, the godmother of terror – from the genre poster girls like Jamie Lee Curtis, to the talented Soska sisters, to horror-fest chief Briony Kidd to Vuckovic herself – have well and truly breached what is commonly thought of as a boy’s club. Vuckovic is among the many women making sure things stay that way. She currently has a short film making the rounds of the top international film festivals around the world, several projects underway and more in the works. I went tête-à-tête with the first lady of horror for a little chat about her reign of terror… I mean that in the best way, of course.
DFI: Who is Jovanka Vuckovic (in ten words or less)?
Vuckovic: Author, filmmaker, journalist, artist, mother.
DFI: Why horror?
Vuckovic: When it comes to horror, I feel like Lt. Ripley in ‘Alien3’ when she says, ‘You’ve been in my life for so long, I can’t remember anything else.’ For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to monsters, horror films and dark fiction. As soon as I could hold a crayon I was drawing creatures; my bedroom walls were festooned with horror film posters and clippings from horror magazines. My mother says I’ve just always been this way. I have no aunts or uncles who introduced me to the genre. Rather, I found it myself. I suffered from childhood insomnia and my parents would let me stay up later in front of the TV because eventually I would fall asleep on the couch – they had no idea I was up all night watching uncut horror movies on Canadian television – at least not until later. And by that point there was nothing they could do about it. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair that led me to run a horror magazine [‘Rue Morgue’], write books on the genre and now make films.
DFI: Your start was in visual effects – why the migration to directing?
Vuckovic: I actually used to work in television at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I took forensic anthropology in university but ended up falling back on my art skills when I graduated and decided that boiling putrefied flesh off human remains wasn’t part of my long-term career plan. I wanted to learn more about filmmaking, and decided to do it from the inside out. So I decided to take a job as a visual effects artist. It was great, and I even won a Gemini [Canadiand Academy Award] for it, but I really wanted to be a storyteller. I wanted to write and direct. So when I was offered a job as a magazine editor at a local horror magazine, I figured it would be a good way to study the genre and prepare myself for directing and writing my own stories. So it’s been a bunch of zig-zagging getting here.
DFI: February was Women in Horror Month. How important do you think it is to try and recognise women’s efforts in the genre, and why?
Vuckovic: I am a woman who has worked in the horror genre every day for many years so I’m always happy to see other women moving into this boy’s club. While we don’t need a month to celebrate our contributions, I support Hannah Neurotica [who started Women in Horror Month] and her efforts to pat us all on the back. She’s our biggest cheerleader.
DFI: Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker and George Romero are quoted frequently on your Facebook page. Are they your main inspirations? If not, who is? And why?
Vuckovic: Those are people I personally know (or knew in Ray’s case) in the genre and I definitely find them inspirational. These are individuals who create on their own terms and I have an immense respect for them. Clive writes the stories he wants to write and for the most part George makes the films he wants to make – and he’s the nicest, most generous guy in the universe. I’m inspired by anyone who lives life on their own terms. Few people did that better than Ray Bradbury.
DFI: Your latest short, ‘The Captured Bird’, was just picked up for international distribution. Gothic horror master Guillermo del Toro acted as executive producer. Tell us about that collaboration.
Vuckovic: Many years ago Guillermo and I met through the magazine I used to edit. I told him back then that it was my plan to make films. Being the generous, awesome guy that he is, he said, ‘If you need any help, feel free to ask.’ So, years later, when I wanted to make this ambitious short film, I asked him for help and, true to his word, he gave it to me. I am immensely grateful to Guillermo for believing in me. I could not have made ‘The Captured Bird’ on the level I did without his blessing. I love that guy!
DFI: March seems to be the month for horror releases, with ‘Stoker’, ‘ABCs of Death’ and ‘The Last Exorcism’ all set to hit international screens during this period. What are you most looking forward to seeing?
Vuckovic: March isn’t usually the greatest month for film releases. February is the worst, but March isn’t much better. It’s a terrible time of year, and studios tend to release the movies they don’t have a lot of faith in around this time. Sometimes some really good movies sneak through, though. I am mostly looking forward to the release of ‘American Mary’, the second feature from Canadian directors Jen and Sylvia Soska. It’s an excellent film. Also, ‘Byzantium’, the new vampire film from director Neil Jordan (‘Interview with the Vampire’) is coming out this year and it’s a refreshing return to mature storytelling involving vampires. It’s the ‘Twilight’ antidote! I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and loved it. What else? Oh yeah, how can I forget Guillermo’s ‘Pacific Rim’? Giant robots versus giant kaiju monsters? I’m in!
DFI: If you were banished to a remote desert island and permitted only one of your DVDs, what would it be and why?
Vuckovic: John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (1982). Because it is a perfect film. And I never get tired of its claustrophobic paranoia and jaw dropping creature effects by Rob Bottin. There are no women in this movie (with the exception of Adrienne Barbeau’s voice as the computer), there is very little blood. It’s just a story well told.
DFI: What’s next from Jovanka Vuckovic? A desert-thriller, set in the Arabian Gulf?
Vuckovic: Hey… that’s a not a bad idea! Know anyone with five million who wants to finance it? [Laughs]. Right now I am making another short for the Toronto International Film Festival Emerging Filmmakers’ Competition. I’ve just finished writing another book on horror. It’s a gift book and it comes out this spring from Ilex Press. I’m also in development on a feature documentary on the subject of death and dying and our relationship to our corporeal bodies. And yes, I am writing a feature horror film that I plan to direct as soon as I can. So I’m juggling a few different things, including being a mother – the most important job in this world.