Winston Stemler

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What gave you the inspiration to write and direct this story?

I have always been intrigued by the notion of trying to convey the span of a year in a short film — it is difficult enough to convey a year in a feature film, let alone a 30 minute short. It begs the question, what do you keep? Do you show the passing of the seasons? Do you show the characters physically aging? Or do you show the truth? That one year can simultaneously pass in the blink of an eye and also be the most important twelve months a person will ever live.

Although Arcana is on paper a crime film, I think of it more as a deeper meditation on the passage of life and death. What we choose to do with one year to live and whom we choose to spend it with are two very important questions. Hence the title, Arcana. Secrets and mysteries to which the film provides only one answer. To quote: ‘In the small town of Aiona, the Mafia Ministry rules all. The duties and positions of the Dons – each more absurd than the last – remain public. And all remains well.’

What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

Music. Without a doubt. Yes, of course, the story should be tight as a drum, the characters should be fully realized, and the performances should be grounded, but I believe the heart and soul of a film are in what the audience hears, not merely what they see. The music and the sound design of a film are what corral viewers’ hearts before any lines of dialogue are spoken and what lingers on the mind when the credits cut to black. Music informs cadence, cadence informs character, and character informs the story. It is for this reason that my first directorial project ever was in fact a horror musical.

The poster for Cernunnos, my first directorial project.

Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

To keep going. It is easy to start something with the best of intentions. It is necessary to persist. 

What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

The films that have been the most influential on me are those that revel in ambiguity and encourage repeated viewings. John Carpenter’s The Thing has always been a personal favorite of mine. Setting aside the unparalleled body horror, what impresses me so much about the film is its landscape — not only does the white winter snow perfectly reflect the facelessness of the film’s monster, it is ironically the distance and vacuousness of the Antarctic that elevates The Thing’s claustrophobic horror. There is no better film to examine the alignment of setting and theme, a lesson that has very much impacted how I watch and write movies. For the same reason, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and Dario Argento’s Deep Red have each had a profound impact on me, my approach toward shaping character, and my deep-rooted love of all things horror. More recently, Nine Days by Edson Oda stands out as one the most powerful debut movies I have seen in a long time.

Are you working on a new project at the moment or are you planning to? Is there anybody you’d like to thank?

Recently, I have put most of my efforts into writing. This past year, I have written six features alone. It would be a blessing to be able to work as an independent writer/director for any sort of foreign production company and to be able to recreate the magic, adventure, and yes, even the necessary hardship, that defined our filming of Arcana in Italy. Though the sentiment may sound childish, it is very true that living in another country expands both your palette and your heart, no less filming in one. I have always felt that every film tells two stories: the one in front of the camera and the one behind it. There is no greater story behind the camera than people from all walks of life, all cultures, and all perspectives coming together to be unified as one. 

I would like to thank my mother, Maria Lovin, and my close friend, Noah Cliff. That said, I am deeply grateful to any and everyone who worked on this production. To name but a few: Andrea Perusi, Milena Lonardoni, Nestor Trujillo, Rory Chenoweth, Adriana Serrato. Last but not least, our leading star, Riccardo Festa. Ciao.