Dionne Copland and Louise Weard chat COLD WIND BLOWING – Alexandra Heller-Nicholas interviews (Exclusive)

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In March 2021, I put out a general call on Twitter for women-directed horror films that may have fallen off my radar during the first year of the pandemic to help signal boost them where I could. One of the first films that was brought to my attention was Dionne Copland’s Cold Wind Blowing, and it was love at first sight as captured in this AWFJ review at the time. Fun teens-in-the-woods slasher film vibes on one hand, a monster movie on the other, what I wasn’t expecting was the surprising emotional punch as the film’s characters dealt with their grief, fears and anxieties with far more than the usual complexity such a film commonly affords.

The film follows Nomi (Angela Way) who overcompensates for the emotional upset of her parent’s recent divorce by taking her brother Thomas (Cameron Peterson) and a group of friends to the family’s isolated cabin for Christmas in beautiful Cypress Hill. Nomi needs this Christmas to be perfect, but as things begin to unravel it appears they are anything but; at first, it’s the complicated interpersonal relationships between the friends themselves, but things go from bad to worse when they realize there is something outside and they are not as alone as they had thought they were.

Now available to rent or buy through Mill Creek Entertainment after a brief, limited theatrical release, writer/director Dionne Copland and producer/editor/cinematographer kindly took the time to speak to us about their film.

Still from Cold Wind Blowing

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas: So I understand Cold Wind Blowing had a curious journey. It’s been a weird couple of years in general of course, but I am super interested in hearing your story because it is such an interesting one!

Dionne Copland: After graduating in 2017, Louise and I really wanted to jump start making features because it was hard to halt being as productive as we were in film school. We needed an outlet, we wanted a feature, but neither of us had connections or any opportunities forward other than what we could make ourselves, so we pushed to do what looking back seemed like the impossible (and honestly, some days still does). I contacted actors who I had discovered in film school that I really trusted and all of them jumped on board.

I wrote for months. We called in family and friends to help us shoot. It was a whirlwind. It was a ten day shoot in a tiny cabin in Cypress with six actors and six crew on set. Afterward, Louise poured herself into editing and sound around the both of us working and hoping that this little film that could, would! Louise is incredible at putting herself out there and meeting people, whereas I’m very shy, and she championed us and pulled us through the festival circuit when I was too scared to do so. We’ve been really fortunate for all of the people who have believed in us and supported us along this journey. And I’ve been so lucky to have the most tenacious partner possible.

Louise Weard: As Dionne said, after film school we had this itch where we knew we had to make a movie sooner rather than later. I wasn’t in a great place mentally and Dionne sort of said “Hey let’s just do it!” and started contacting actors before we even had a script. We threw ourselves entirely into Cold Wind Blowing at that point and it dominated the next four years of our lives as we made this little movie with whatever money we could earn working in the video store/on-set for bad TV movies and finally we had this finished film. But we made this really weird horror film that sort of breaks a lot of rules while still being a classic cabin-in-the-woods movie, but really queer and female-driven in a way that we hadn’t seen before. We made something that was like, “This movie would have been my whole life in high school as a teenage girl/queer gender-confused weirdo,” but it can be hard to translate that to success on the festival circuit and finding distribution when you’re making something that personal.

Thankfully, we had a lot of incredible people cheering us on who really wanted to see us and this movie succeed. Here’s a piece of advice for any emerging filmmakers: be authentic! We sold this movie because I had a nice conversation about obscure cartoons and exploitation movies with someone at an underground film festival when I was 16-years-old and had no idea how important that person would be in my life – and she probably doesn’t even remember me!

AHN: What was the origin point for this project? When would you say Cold Wind Blowing was conceived?

DC: When I was little, my mom shared a very scary supernatural experience with me that she and her friends had endured outside of her hometown of Eastend, Saskatchewan which is where our movie begins, as well as where home base was during the shoot. It was a story that stuck with me and it was definitely the seed of what would become some of the creature’s behaviours and scares. Louise and I were both interested in doing a winter set project, we both found Christmas holidays had become increasingly stressful, and we had this frightening story as a touchstone.

From there Cold Wind Blowing came together. The moment the idea moved from a spark to a reality was while we were on vacation at Okanagan Lake right after grad. I was in the shower, I was tipsy, I was determined. I was sitting in a towel, emailing actors asking if they would like to come onboard a feature with Louise and I and as the acceptances came in, we knew we could do this. We bet on ourselves, as scary as that was, and now four years later, our little film has a wide release, so we made the right call. Moral of the story: have the audacity to do it!

AHN: As a renowned holiday-hater, I have a soft spot for films that validate my loathing of them. What sparked this aspect of the film?

DC: Holidays are inherently stressful, it’s such an easy catalyst for drama. Nearly every holiday gathering is one conversation away from a straight turn into horror! That and one of my holiday traditions is an annual watch of Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. I adore winter set films. The snow, the cold, it creates an atmosphere that I really wanted to explore, especially having lived my life through the bitterly cold Canadian winters.

LW: Solidarity for holiday-haters! My parents separated right before Christmas when I was an adolescent but they didn’t want to cancel the big Christmas gathering with both of their extended families. You can imagine how well that went, as well as what my therapy bills have been to deal with the trauma of that experience. Ha ha! When I met Dionne she loved Christmas and had to spend years getting me onto her side. Now I love the holidays… as long as it’s a “parent-free Christmas” as our film suggests.

AHN: You clearly work very closely as collaborators – how does that play out in practical terms?

LW: Amazingly! Dionne and I met when I asked her to come help me out with my short film in university and it was instantly clear that she was this astonishingly talented director, so I was like, “Hey do you want to direct the rest of my movie?” Ever since she has been the writer-director extraordinaire and I’ve been responsible for all of the technical aspects of our movies when it comes to the cinematography, editing, sound, and producing. I like to think that the two of us are a sapphic filmmaking power-couple and hopefully the industry has room for us.

DC: Louise snatched me up first year of university to work on her short film during a chance meeting at the campus theatre and before I was ever on set, we started dating. We both have natural skills each of us fall into when making a movie that combined make our work very strong. We’re both incredibly passionate and particular which has led to some…disagreements, something impossible to avoid when we’re both chronically Type A perfectionists! However, I could never imagine doing film any other way. Louise is my incredibly talented partner, rock, and cheerleader and everything that we are is a testament to our relationship.

AHN: What I love about Cold Wind Blowing is that on one hand it feels like a very warm, familiar kind of horror film (horny teens stuck in a cabin under threat), but then really pushes those expectations we might have based on that general scenario to their limits. What was your approach here?

DC: We wanted to do something refreshing, where characters weren’t necessarily punished for moral decisions, rather we wanted characters behaving realistically in an impossible situation. I wanted the people to feel real, flaws and all, and for things to happen not because the plot demanded, but because the characters would behave consistently throughout the proceedings. Louise and I wanted to explore grief and trauma through a genre lens and if there’s a kill every ten minutes, we felt that would dilute the gravity of the situation.

LW: That same weekend in the Okanagan that Dionne contacted her actors, we were driving back home to Vancouver and started talking about things we didn’t like in horror movies. We were talking about a mid-2000s Anchor Bay release that we found ourselves enjoying because of its likable side characters – but then the movie killed them off in the most unceremonious way just because “it’s a horror movie so it has to.” So we asked, Can you make a horror movie like this one – a cabin-in-the-woods creature feature with all of the hallmarks of that genre – where nobody dies? You’ll only know if we were successful if you watch the movie.

AHN: The strength of the film to me is very much how it presents the way different people react when threatened or in a crisis; this is so often kind of “flattened down” to a couple of general responses, but it feels so much more complex here, especially with things like grief and loyalty. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

DC: What inspires me most when it comes to writing is character, so I spend a lot of time exploring character motivations and dissecting what their emotional responses would be in a given situation. I am definitely a character over plot type of person in both my work and in my tastes so it came down to writing detailed, well-rounded characters and dropping them into this harrowing situation, so it ended up being this sort of unconventional horror film that focused more on character dynamics than blood and guts.

With each actor, I provided detailed back stories and personalized playlists and spent a lot of time before production rounding out their characters and each of them poured so much work into developing them further which made their relationships come to life every time I called “Action!” I also wrote these characters with my actors already in mind, so knowing what they were capable of and how those personalities could clash and what I wanted to get out of the horror elements of the movie, it felt like a really natural process to see these moments of grief and loyalty play out on screen.

AHN: As a monster movie, the creature design alone is just fantastic. Are you fans of monster movies – what inspired you both generally and more specifically on this front?

DC: I adore monsters! Much of the work I have been doing post-Cold Wind Blowing centers around werewolves and romance. I think I feel very similarly to Guillermo del Toro when it comes to monsters. I find them tragic, passionate, and misunderstood. It was rewarding to design the creature with our frequent collaborator Michelle Grady and it is something I hope to have the opportunity to continue exploring throughout my career. I really like animalistic designs, nothing is scarier than a wide jaw filled with sharp teeth, and that definitely played a role in the final makeup of the creature. It was a design born from the idea of what might lurk in the forest, the animals that are ever-present, watching from beyond the trees.

LW: That creature costume is even scarier in person, especially when you’re in the middle of the woods with nobody around for miles. We like to think of any monster on film as the embodiment of the return of the repressed (shout out to my film theory professor Christine Evans for making me read Robin Wood in first year university). The creature design in Cold Wind Blowing is informed by the fauna of the Cypress Hills, accounts of cryptid sightings from southeastern Saskatchewan, some metaphorical animism, and in general you’re seeing a reflection of Nomi in the creature. I think it’s up to the audience to interpret what that means to them.

AHN: The Cypress Hills and Canada’s Saskatchewan province are really privileged locations in this film – what is it about this area specifically that drew you to tell a story about it?

DC: My grandparents lived in Eastend, Saskatchewan which is less than an hour out of Cypress so I spent a great deal of my childhood there. I grew up listening to local folktales of UFOs and high strangeness that have shaped my fascination with all things beyond the veil. I vividly remember trying to sleep there as a child and being woken by the coyotes howling on the train tracks that cut through my grandparents’ backyard and how terrified I was that they would come inside. I wanted to take all of these childhood memories and fears and stitch them into the fabric of the film. With my family being from the area it also felt fitting to return to a place so dear to me to tackle our first feature. We are very lucky and grateful to have filmed there.

LW: The Cypress Hills have been described as an “oasis in the desert,” and as Larry Fessenden says in our movie, “They were the only place on earth not covered by the last ice age.” We collected all of this folk history that included everything from shadow-people and poltergeists to cryptid and UFO sightings. It’s a really mystical place. Of course I wanted to shoot a movie there.

AHN: There are clearly folk horror elements that run through the movie, what are your feelings about how the film connects and deviates from the expectations an audience might bring to a film that falls under that umbrella?

LW: I adore folk horror films, which isn’t all horror contributing to this tapestry of folk culture? When I first told you about our film Alexandra I made a comparison to the way that Lake Mungo is a folk horror movie that doesn’t explicitly share its history. Well we wanted to tell a horror story that spoke to the complicated history of the Cypress Hills in a way that commented on Settler folk culture while embracing the Indigenous history in a way that wasn’t appropriative.

Dionne’s mom and those in her small town called the creature a “Banshee” likely due to their Anglo-Saxon roots; the First Nations people have a lot of stories that mirror it as well and have their regional-specific name for it which should not be spoken. Obviously we went into this endeavor with awareness and respect for the Cypress Hills’ historical and cultural past. I really do encourage people to read up more on the history of the Cypress Hills as our ability to even shoot a movie in this vacation community feels so wrong considering its histories of massacres, land theft, and bureaucratically-induced famine; those kids really shouldn’t be up in those mountains! It’s a sacred place and it’s meant to be respected.

AHN: The big question – where to now for Louise and Dionne?

LW: We are so excited to be moving on from Cold Wind Blowing. Dionne has been writing like mad and we have two new projects that we have our sights on specifically – extremely queer, female-driven, unique and dangerous movies that we hope to find the right partners for soon.

DC: This is the most exciting part for me, the prospect of having the scripts we have been working on for the last couple of years moving into development stages! I would love to continue with features, not necessarily horror, but definitely genre heavy. Possibly some happy endings!

LW: Thanks for these wonderful questions and all of the support with our film, Alexandra!

DC: Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for all of your love and support, Alexandra!

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).