Jenny Anastasoff had to call me back.
“I was in a parking lot waiting for my editor to pick up my hard drive so he can upload a screener on the internet,” the Maine actress, film advocate, and now director explains breathlessly once she gets back on the phone. “It’s pretty much just like making independent movies—all this crazy stuff, constantly doing favors, shifting things around.”
Anastasoff’s hectic morning is understandable, as her first film “Sui Generis” is premiering Friday night at the State Theatre as part of 2014’s “Damnationland,” the Maine-made horror anthology film series now embarking on its fifth terrifying year. A consistent acting presence in Maine horror (“The Barn,” “The Hanover House,” “Ragged Isle”) and local movie booster (called a “long-time champion” by “Damnationland co-founder Allen Baldwin), Anastasoff steps behind the camera for the first time this year with a psychological thriller about an isolated housewife beset by troubling visions. Co-written by “Ragged Isle”‘s Greg Tulonen, the film may be Anastasoff’s first, but she’s not cutting herself any slack.
“It’s all about the script,” she explains. “Greg and I began with the ending in mind. We wrote maybe 12 versions of a 14-page script. People say ‘it’s just a short film,’ but that just means that everything about it is so all-consuming. Every single scene, every frame has so much thought put into it.” Anastasoff credits experienced Maine pros like director of photography Phil Cormier and editor Marc Bartholomew for helping her realize her vision so completely. “I want people to see this, and I want to make a good movie,” she explains. “I’m ambitious—I don’t want to make a crappy first movie, even though you’re allowed to. [Laughs.] I was aiming for a solid ‘B’ for a first film, and I think we did a lot better than that.” (See the film’s trailer at darkfarmfilms.com.)
Full of praise for the “Damnationland” series, Anastasoff nonetheless has some strong ideas about women in horror that she wants to bring across in “Sui Generis.” “Lisa Boucher Hartman is our protagonist, and she’s definitely a strong female lead,” she says. “I have a feminist bent and am mindful of the Bechdel Test—I wanted our film to be transgressive in its own way. Because of the work of [Maine filmmakers] Kate Kaminski and Betsy Carson and the Bluestocking Film Series (http://www.bluestockingfilms.com/), I felt like I had to step up my game. As a woman, I don’t know that my directing style is that different from that of a man, but as far as the “woman in jeopardy” trope in horror goes, we wanted to do some subtext—while still appealing to the mass audience. We wanted to plant a few seeds so that you ask yourself, ‘why did I fall for that twist?'”
As for “Damnationland”‘s enduring success, Anastasoff, while citing the resurgence of horror in general (“Horror fans were very niche-y, now there’s this wider audience of sick, depraved people who demand product,” she laughs), says that Maine’s own horror icon gets some of the credit. “In Maine, Stephen King has been our ambassador for 30-something years. We have been weaned on him. There is very ripe ground here.”
As a proving ground for the best of Maine’s best, “Damnationland” continues to improve—and Anastasoff is obviously honored to be welcomed into the fold. “It’s been a privilege to be surrounded by such accomplished friends. It goes to show, too, that if you do your best, you can be there for people, networking, connecting. Help one person on one shoot, you never know how it is going to pay forward.”
See “Sui Generis” as part of this year’s “Damnationland” 8 p.m. Friday night at State Theatre, Portland, and then all around the state this Halloween season.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Geno’s Rock Club, 625 Congress St., Portland | www.facebook.com/pages/Genos-Rock-Club
Tuesday: Troma Video Shoot with Portland’s own Covered In Bees! I talked with Troma Entertainment’s legendary mogul Lloyd Kaufman about his most recent trashterpiece “Return To Nuke ‘Em High—Vol. 1” back in February. Now he’s back in town to hang with Covered In Bees as they film their video for the song “Troma Institute Of Technology,” appearing in “Return To Nuke ‘Em High—Vol. 2!”
NICKELODEON CINEMA, Portland | www.patriotcinemas.com
Wednesday: “The Hanover House.” One-night-only screening of Corey Norman’s acclaimed, Maine-made horror feature, featuring, among others, Jenny Anastasoff!