One of the most promising up-and-coming writer/directors in the scene, the multi-talented K X/I has emerged as a force to be reckoned with including several shorts and features under her belt. Now, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I talk with her about the start of her filmmaking journey, her recently-released film Black Lake and other upcoming projects.
Me: Hello and thank you for taking the time to do this. First off, where did you get the urge to go into directing?
K X/I: Hey Don, my pleasure. Thank you for giving me a voice. Well, I have always been a writer. I wrote a lot of poetry and horror fiction and started as young as 6! I eventually got banned from reading horror books by the time I was 11 by my parents because I was obsessed. I started directing when I went to university to study literature and did a module on film adaptations of text. So, I switched majors and have not stopped writing and directing since. And that was in 2005.
Me: Were you always into genre films growing up? What films specifically got you into watching horror movies?
K: Yes! I had an uncle who owned a video store in Pakistan which I always had access to when I spent summer holidays there. I used to mentally make a list of everything my parents didn’t want me to see so that when I was old enough I could! Some of the early ones for me were ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ ‘Child’s Play,’ ‘Evil Dead,’ ‘The Shining,’ ‘The Omen II,’ and ‘Alien.’ I had severe arachnophobia because my father showed me the spider-head from ‘The Thing’ when I was 7. I also grew up with a lot of South-Asian horror films and horror stories. I discovered East-Asian horror cinema around the age of 18 and that’s when my palate matured, and I branched out wanting to consume more world cinema.
Me: Having worked on various aspects of film production, do you have any particular preference for working on any?
K: I love writing and directing, but more than anything, I love being behind the camera and feeling the weight of it. There’s nothing more exciting for me than pushing my body to try and get that perfect shot that captures the essence of my script. Working low budget means, I often have to take risks for example during ‘Black Lake’, I was trying to get this particular shot and had to ask someone to watch out for crocodiles so I didn’t get dragged in. It’s probably one of the reasons I couldn’t rent a camera because I would just run wild with it.
Me: Having worked on plenty of short films early in your career, what tools and skills do you acquire working on those that transferred to future film projects?
K: The short films were a great way for me to explore singular ideas and particular techniques. They also helped me understand the importance of timing. I didn’t do much publicly with my early shorts because they mostly felt like fragments of a larger idea. I didn’t have a formal film education as I studied film theory, but I watched a lot of films. The short films were a way for me to familiarize myself with the film tools and teach myself.
Me: That brings us to your latest project, "Black Lake." What can you tell us about the film?
K: The story follows Aarya, who leaves her family in the city to pursue her passion for expressionist painting. She is gifted a red scarf by her aunt who has just come back from a trip to Pakistan and is haunted by a Churail; a demonic and malevolent South-Asian Witch.
Me: Where did the inspiration for the film come from? What specifically about the legend of the Churail attracted you to feature it in the story?
K: I wanted to make a monster movie that went beyond the surface. The Churail is still feared in South-Asia, I even grew up listening to stories about Churail. But the deeper I dug, I realized this was a story about violence against women, and how monstrous acts create these monstrous women by no fault of their own. The #metoo movement was happening, I was deeply inspired by the Jyoti Singh case, and it was also a very personal piece to me.
Me: Being the writer, director, star and production designer among other duties on the film, does it still challenge you to be involved in various capacities at once on a project like this? How do you balance those priorities during a shoot?
K: Oh it was so challenging. Most of the filming was done with just two people, including myself. At most, we had 4 people on set. I work with energy a lot so I need to have an intimate and relatively closed set so people can be on the same page, understand the vision and the message of the film. I also don’t think I slept much. I live and breathe film, but with this story especially, I was so driven.
Me: With a heavy artistic aesthetic woven throughout the film as well as tackling heavy social themes on the outbreak of violence inflicted upon people, how did you handle incorporating those elements into the film?
K: My main message that I wanted to convey was one of listening, transformation, and healing. We shot some gruesome scenes, which I decided to cut because the real-life case of Jyoti Singh was horrific enough and I wanted to honour that. I wanted to honour the audience who might relate to those events or a version of them. So I focused on the feeling and the rhythm of the film. It’s very much a sensory and spiritual experience and exploration of pain and trauma. You can see this through the pacing of the film, the focus on texture, sound (or lack of), music and colour.
Me: What was the set like while shooting the film? How did the cast and crew react to the type of film being made?
K: I tried to film the whole of ‘Black Lake’ in Pakistan originally and people were too terrified to be involved. It may not have helped that most of the locations were some of the most haunted in Pakistan! Naseema, who plays the young girl, was a beggar girl I met in the necropolis. So that was an amazing experience because I was able to do something for the villagers in return for their help with the film. When it became too dangerous, I had to change my plans and shot in Scotland. The first cast and crew didn’t quite understand the importance of the film, which eventually led to me having to play Aarya because I was running out of time and money. So, I changed and downsized the crew considerably.
Me: Do you recall having any odd or funny on-set stories about yourself or any of the other cast/crew members?
K: I became haunted by the ‘Black Lake’ Churail partway through filming. I don’t scare easy at all, but during this time I had night terrors and often woke up screaming because I felt her near me and around me. I try not to think about it now. I couldn’t sleep in the dark for months. This was one of the reasons I wanted to have the Original Score by BurningTapes released on vinyl before the film was seen. It became very important to me to have the world hear the sounds of the Churail because many women have their voices taken away from them. The night terrors stopped on the day we released the score, and I haven’t had them since.
Me: What else are you working on that you’d like to share with our readers?
K: I am in the process of getting some finances together to put my first feature ‘Maya’ back through post-production. I completed it in 2015 but didn’t do much with it. It just wasn’t a good time politically for a film about a young Muslim girl, which also dealt with Jinn possession. After working on ‘Black Lake’, I learned so much and am much happier with the newly edited version of ‘Maya’. I hope to have it festival ready for next year. I’m also working on the script for my third feature film, which I hope to start filming in late 2022.
Me: Lastly, being that this is Women in Horror Month, what special message do you have for any women out there looking to join in the industry in any capacity as you are one yourself? Thank you again for your time!
K: I try to give very little direction to my cast and crew because it also allows them to give themselves more fully and honestly to the part they play in the making of the film. Every person involved helps birth a particular vision and should feel proud of their work. So no matter what aspect of filmmaking interests you, do it with passion and love. Do it knowing that you ARE the right person for that job and that you’re there for a reason. Trust in that Divine Feminine energy and learn to harness it. Also, get yourself involved with Women in Horror Film Festival even as a volunteer. I promise you that you will make some great friends and will be very inspired.