AN ARTICLE by BERNADINE SANTISTEVAN, DIRECTOR OF "The Cry"
Bernadine was kind enough to make a trip to my Owl Creek Bridge (anita64.wordpress.com ) in order to share some stories about making her Supernatural Thriller Based on the Legend of La Llorona.
I hope that you enjoy her story and that you are as inspired by her determination to see her creative dreams realized as I am.
I first heard of La Llorona when I was a kid growing up in a small town in New Mexico. Ever since I can remember, we were told stories of a woman who drowned her kids in the river—basically to get revenge from her lover who had betrayed her. But after drowning them, she realized what she had done and let out a horrifying, heart-wrenching cry. From that moment she was condemned to roam the rivers forever, crying and searching for her children.
As kids, our parents always told us that La Llorona would take us away if we went by the river to play alone, or if we misbehaved. On top of being completely scared stiff that La Llorona was going to get me, the whole idea that a mother would kill her own child absolutely terrified me.
When I decided to make a movie, there was no question in my mind that it had to be about La Llorona. On the one hand, I definitely wanted to do something focused on my culture. And from a more personal perspective, having grown up in a very superstitious environment (a combination of old Spanish beliefs dating back to the time of the Inquisition mixed with Native American beliefs), making a movie about La Llorona was a way for me to conquer my some of my fears/demons, with La Llorona being a big one.
Like most of the more than 28 million people in the U.S. who grew up with stories of La Llorona, I originally thought that this ghost was from my small town. After learning that she’s basically everywhere and has been a strong force in the Latino world for five centuries, I set off on a search for her across the U.S. and Latin America. I dug up historical material on her dating back hundreds of years, interviewed people who believe they’ve seen or heard her, and collected stories, artwork, poems and songs about her from all over the continent. You can see some of my research on my website www.TheCryTheMovie.com. I also went on to explore “Lloronas in other cultures,” and found several similar legends from all over the world like the Greek Medea, the Jewish Lilith and the Irish Banshee. In the end, it took me 5 years to get to a place where I felt as though I knew La Llorona well enough to write a script that would truly capture her essence. Then it was writing, rewriting, finding money, shooting, finding more money, post-production, distribution…what seemed like endless work.
Since it’s Halloween, I want to mention a few creepy experiences that I had while making The Cry—moments where I definitely felt La Llorona’s presence.
The first creepy experience happened one day when I was shooting in Spanish Harlem. Some santeros (traditional saint makers) from New Mexico had carved a wood statue of Death in the form of a woman (Dona Sebastiana). It was quite difficult to transport the santo to New York because it was a large, life-size carving and very fragile. In any case, the day my best friend, Horacio, and I were unloading Death from the vehicle, a freak accident happened where I was hit in the head—just a hair above my right eye—
with something flying through the air. It felt as though a brick had hit me, and I almost lost my eye. I remember grabbing my head and seeing blood pouring into my hand. Horacio ran and caught me just as the world started spinning and I was falling to the ground. The experience totally freaked me out not only because it happened when we were moving Death, but also because in The Cry the way that I physically show La Llorona’s curse on people is through their bleeding eyes. A few months later when I was doing post-production on The Cry, one morning my project manager suddenly had some bloody tears coming out of her eyes. She never did find out why that happened.
Another creepy experience happened when I was shooting some of my flashback scenes in New Mexico. Basically, I had spent several days looking for the perfect river location to shoot La Llorona drowning her kid, and found it months before we shot there. The place had a strange, haunting feel to it that made it perfect for The Cry. What was creepy about this was that a few weeks before we shot there, my sister, Rita, who still lives in NM called me to tell me that a woman named Bernadine—my name, which is pretty uncommon—had gone to the same location and drowned her two kids and herself. When I heard this my stomach fell to the floor. As I was shooting my scene I remember looking out over the river and feeling La Llorona’s presence more than ever.
The last creepy experience that I want to mention happened when I was in the final stage of post-production. In The Cry, I am the voice and cries of La Llorona. It took me quite some time to figure out what La Llorona would say, and this is something that I wrote only after digging deep into my knowledge and “relationship” with her. On the day I was in the studio recording La Llorona’s voice, something very strange happened. All of a sudden, something moved through me, taking control of my body and my voice. It felt as though for that slice of time, I was outside of me, hearing someone else’s voice come out of my body. It was a haunting, yet amazingly experience. The sound team that was recording in the control room was frozen stiff with how scary my voice sounded. You’ll get a taste of it yourself when you see The Cry, and you can read about more creepy experiences on my blog www.TheCry.typepad.com/thecry/.
Making The Cry is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. (Details included in my next horror film.) But despite all the unbelievable struggles, if given the choice, I’d do it all again. The film helped me learn so much about myself—my culture, my power as a woman, how to face and fight my fears—not to mention how to make a film. Though I have to say that perhaps the most important thing I learned by making The Cry is that nothing is more fulfilling, empowering and magical than pouring your heart and soul into a dream and making it come true.
As per La Llorona, we’ve been together for many years now, and I know her well—perhaps better than anyone else on the face of the earth. And although I no longer fear her, I am now more certain of one thing than I ever was before: There’s nothing worse than a mother who murders her child…and La Llorona is real.
I hope you enjoyed Bernadine's article.
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