“Skinwalker” director Christian Neuman says the film though shot in a very neurotic way, is “just a really fun movie to watch right now”
Photo: Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne
Director Christian Neuman is delighted that his experimental debut feature, “Skinwalker”, is finally being shown on the big screen in Luxembourg.
The re-opening of cinemas after lockdown may have been subdued--global audiences even for a blockbuster like “Tenet” have been relatively disappointing--but for creative talent the chance to see their art in a screening room with an audience is one that cannot be matched. For a director like Christian Neuman, who has waited more than six months for his debut film, “Skinwalker”, to be shown in local cinemas, the relief is even greater. “I think the experience is so much richer, like most films, but this one especially, if you watch it in a cinema room, with a great sound system,” he explains.
Originally scheduled for its local premier at this year’s Luxembourg City Film Festival in March, “Skinwalker” didn’t make it to the big screen when the festival closed early thanks to lockdown.
A co-production from Luxembourg’s Calach Films and Belgian company Caviar Films (which has a canon of work including Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” films), it is being finally being distributed across screens in the grand duchy by Tarantula distribution.
Neuman describes “Skinwalker” as an experimental “genre-bending” movie, the sort of film that leaves audiences having experienced a real trip. “I worked a lot with ambience, and just psychological aspects,” he explains. It has a distinct neo-gothic atmosphere and, although far from explicit it contains some horror tropes.
“I like when watching a film, you can experience someone’s very inner personal state that manifests on screen. And it’s shot in a in a very neurotic way. So, I think it’s just a really fun movie to watch right now. But it’s also a tough movie that I think fits perfectly in our time.”
Talking about “Skinwalker” a year after it first premiered in Cairo, Neuman also feels somewhat distanced. “I can really not judge this movie anymore,” he explains. “You know, I would give a lot to just see it again with fresh eyes.”
He does admit that he definitely wanted to make a gothic movie. “It’s probably my background because I did so much creative direction and artistic work. But I had very strong concepts for this film. Set design, lighting, even colours, are much more than just a visual thing, they can really transport emotions.”
Watch the trailer for “Skinwalker”
International and local cast
“Skinwalker” stars Amber Anderson as Regine, a free-spirited but ultimately disturbed young woman who returns from the city (the film purposefully has no specific geographic location) to her home village for the funeral of her grandmother. Udo Kier plays Regine’s father who has his own struggles, and Regine is forced to confront family secrets as she peels away layers of her past.
Casting the role of Regine was crucial as she has to pretty much carry the entire movie. Christian spent some time in London seeing between 25 and 30 pre-selected actresses before landing Anderson, who recently played Jane Fairfax in Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma”. “Amber really stood out because, funnily enough, she has a lot of similarities to the character in her real life. She comes from a pretty remote countryside village and when she goes back from London she gets a bit of this ‘outsider’ treatment.”
Kier, who has filmed several projects in Luxembourg including “Shadow of the Vampire” with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, was a great catch for the role of Regine’s father. “He told me that he accepted this solely because of the script, and it was the first time he has done that without meeting the director.”
But Neuman also placed emphasis on having a strong Luxembourg cast. “I think that's something I’m proud of. I think throughout the movie you don’t really feel the difference [between the local and international cast]” The film features Luc Feidt, Sophie Mousel, Luc Schiltz and Sarah Lamesch in significant roles.
Local crew includes familiar names such as costume designer Virginia Ferreira, costume supervisor Carmen de Pinto, editor Felix Sorger, first assistant editor Liam McEvoy, and casting in Luxembourg by Tara Klassen. While Neuman says he felt incredibly lucky to work with a great team, he also acknowledges that the shoot, in Luxembourg and Belgium, was tough. “I mean, especially the camera department, I don't know how many hours we took to set up, because each shot was so incredibly planned.” Indeed, doing an 18-hour day was not unusual given the timeframe and budgetary pressure.
Neuman actually wrote the script for “Skinwalker”, which went through 17 versions, without having a production deal. But his new project already has a grant from the Film Fund for writing development. “Yes, I’m doing this one the more classic way. I’m doing a very well-regarded scripts workshop, which should actually happen in Luxembourg, but we’re doing it via Zoom.” The project, which tackles the subject of acting, once again has a female lead.
Last year Neuman also created his own production company, Wild Fang Films, with Hélène Walland. That company is looking at the Film Fund’s Cineworld funding programme that pairs Luxembourg companies with partners from around the world. Neuman is also personally very interested in VR and the company has been seeking out some “fantastic projects” in that field. “I will always love linear classic cinema, but I could well see myself doing a VR piece,” he says.
“Skinwalker” is released in Luxembourg cinemas on 14 October.