• Through the Trees

Fantasia 2020 Interview: Don't Text Back!

Lesbian couple Mariel Sharp and Kaye Adelaide discuss their queer horror short film

Written by Katherine McLaughlin

An elegant witchy prop from their playful queer horror comedy, Don’t Text Back!, sits on the wall behind Mariel Sharp and Kaye Adelaide as they chat to us from their apartment in Montreal via a zoom call. They shot the film in their home, and on their own terms on a shoe-string budget with a talented crew of women and LGBTQ+ artists.

Their hilarious portrayal of online dating is inspired by real-life and informed by their friends’ terrible experiences on Tinder. It plays out as a satire of the heteronormative dating culture from a queer perspective. The execution is marvellous and the set design is to die for. Essentially a tightly-scripted two-hander, the actors at the centre of the film, Danielle Lapointe and Nancy Webb, work wonderful magic with their deadpan delivery of witty dialogue. Kaye’s background in special effects (she cites Rick Baker as a formative influence) brings the physical comedy of a cursed necklace strangling the owner every time she doesn't text back an awful male suitor, to glorious life. It's up to an energy healer to break the spell.

“I think both of us, having become more distanced from a hetero dating scene, the more we are spending time with the idea of just being queer and how liberating it is. It’s harder and harder to listen to the same stories over and over again about how he did XYZ but then I still texted him back! Hearing that over and over it has a sense of a magic spell so that really is what we were trying to express”, explains Kaye. “We were trying to manifest that kind of curse in a genre way with the heart-shaped locket”, adds Mariel.

Mariel and Kaye co-wrote, directed and produced the film together under the banner of True Sweetheart Films – a production company helmed by Mariel. The company also produced Amelia Moses’ debut feature film Bleed With Me which will premiere at Fantasia Festival preceded by Mariel and Kaye’s short film. With the flood of news stories about toxic male gatekeepers in the film industry not only failing to amplify diverse voices but actively silence them, we asked Mariel and Kaye about the kinds of conversations they were having with their peers on how best to navigate the film industry.

“It’s something we talk about a lot. I think it’s something we’ve felt in the industry before, that toxic male gatekeeping, as you said. Coming out of film school there was this big emphasis on never burning any bridges, always being on everyone’s good books and that means putting up with bad behaviour. That really struck us as not ok, and not the industry that we want to work in. That’s where we decided to band together with a lot of women in our networks, and a lot of queer people in our networks. Our goal is to really try and empower each other to make our own industry and change the environment so we can work in it. That’s really what we did with this film in particular”, explains Mariel.

Kaye elaborates saying, “We really had this goal of not engaging with, or looking for favours from the gatekeeper types. We can often get through a lot of the production and then it’s like, we can’t find a sound recordist, so we need to ask this dude who has all this gear and then we’ll owe them something…and he’s going to be annoying on set. There’s no one in particular I’m thinking of but that type of thing came up on this film.

“We know women who are great sound recordists but they were only available for one day of the two-day shoot so we hired two sound recordists who were two awesome women. We taught ourselves colour grading so we wouldn’t have to get a favour from someone who runs their own studio. We figured out how to do it DIY. We really wanted it to be this community effort so we didn’t have to reach out to people who normally would be the go-to people.”

Their decision to take matters into their own hands and their determination to make a positive change in the industry through their genre filmmaking is cheering and inspirational. And their passion for horror is infectious as they talk about their fondness for the kind of witchy films that inspired their project.

Kaye begins by saying, “We both enjoy The Love Witch, that depiction is so colourful, and the way the technicolour aesthetic ties into the magic is nice. A complete 180, but we both also like The Witch and the horrifying way the witch in a cave is portrayed smooshing babies!”

“That’s a little less tied to Don’t Text Back!”, laughs Mariel. “An inspiration of mine was the 1967 film called Games. It’s not explicitly witchcraft but it’s like the bizarre, the eccentric and the occult. It wasn’t very popular but it has James Caan and Katharine Ross in it, and it’s got that 1960s aesthetic - that influenced how I was looking at the set design.

“I think horror is the most interesting genre. I always say that the thing that compels me the most to working in horror is the mystery element; the idea that you’re trying to get to the bottom of something. That’s what hooks me in more than the gore, which I also love, but it’s that idea of trying to understand our world better and trying to unravel these mysteries.”

Don't Text Back! is showing at Fantasia Festival on Wednesday, August 26th 7:10PM and Tuesday, September 1 at 3:00PM EST time.

You can watch the teaser trailer here.

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