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Features & Interviews

IFTN Talks with 'Cellar Door' Writer/Director Viko Nikci
18 Jan 2019 : Nathan Griffin
IFTN caught up with writer/director Viko Nikci to find out more about the story’s inspiration, the filming process and the importance of post-production in delivering this chilling and thought-provoking mystery thriller.

‘Cellar Door’ releases in Irish cinemas on Friday, January 25th.

Winner of Best Irish First Feature at the 2018 Galway Film Fleadh, ‘Cellar Door’ tells the story of young love to tortured loss and back again. The story follows Aidie (Karen Hassan), a fighter inside and out - as she searches for her son while in the grip of the Church. With a unique point of view on a familiar trauma, Cellar Door cuts deep into the character’s subjective experience - an exploration of love regained and loss relived with the burning question throughout- “What’s The Last Thing You Remember!”

The film features a strong ensemble cast, which is led by Karen Hassan (‘Finding Joy’). Catherine Walker (‘Patricks Day’), Mark O' Halloran (‘Adam and Paul’) with support from Ian McElhinney  (‘Game Of Thrones’), Leah McNamara (‘Metal Heart’), Una Carroll (‘Calvary’), Ruairi O’Connor (‘Handsome Devil ‘),Ali White (‘The Fall’), Conor Ó Hanlon (‘Vikings’), Stella McCusker (‘Five Minutes of Heaven’) and Amber Jean Rowan (‘Guilt’) who round out the cast.

‘Cellar Door’ is produced by David Collins of Samson Films (‘Once’) with supported from Screen Ireland. The film was written, directed and edited by Viko Nikci, Robert Flood features as DoP, original score by Ray Harman and production design by Mark Kelly. The film was cast by Louise Kiely and Thyrza Ging,

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Viko earlier this week.

Where did the inspiration for this film come from?

“I was deeply affected by story that came out of Tuam. I wanted to explore a unique perspective on that trauma. I wrote a character called Aidie - which enabled a fresh, subjective view on the story of the mother and baby homes. The screenplay for Cellar Door was written over 8 days - it was like a fever dream. That same flowing energy now exists in the film.”

For a debut feature film, you certainly didn’t shy away from taking on complex narratives and structures. How crucial was the pre-production period in delivering such a thought provoking story?

“Preproduction was a vital part of the process. Cellar Door is a mystery thriller - when the mystery reveals itself, it gives the audience a new perspective on everything that they have seen up to that point. So the film has to work on two levels. It also has to work on subsequent viewings. So it was important to work out every beat of the story so that it satisfies on multiple fronts.”

The film follows a warped and non-linear story line that sees the protagonist revisit a number of key locations throughout the film. Can you tell me how you approached this as a director?

“We shot in a free flowing way - with the camera weaving in and out of the action, back and forth between the actors. Although the story can be described as non-linear, from Aidie’s perspective, it’s very much linear. The character has a clear intention in every scene - she also gathers what she needs to solve the mystery. Every scene brings her closer to the truth. So it was crucial to keep track of where we were in the script and what came next in the story.”

“The voice of the edit has these fluid - sometimes hidden - transitions between every scene. Because films are typical filmed out of order in relation to the screenplay, directing this film was particular tricky because we constantly had to ensure that these transitions worked across the A and B side of every scene cut point.”

The dark and unnerving subject matter is intensified by the staggered editing style of the film. How much emphasis did you put on this process in the post-production stage and why was this important for the film?

“The edit was the most important part of the process of making Cellar Door. It is where the film was elevated. In a way, the film is a dance between the lead performance and the cinematography. The edit is what showcases this dance. The edit mimics the emotional state of Aidie. The film is a subjective view of a very familiar trauma. When that trauma is reveal, not only do we realize the truth, but we also understand that we have been shown the truth the entire time, we just didn’t understand it until we had the final piece of the puzzle. The edit is where this dynamic was created. It is what makes Cellar Door a uniquely cinematic experience.”

“Another layer where the clues are giving is in the sound design and score. That’s one of the reasons why I’d love for audiences to see it in the cinema. The Dolby 5.1 audio mix has a tremendous impact.”

Can you tell me a little bit about the casting process and how you came across Karen?

“We saw a huge number of extremely talented actors for this role. Our wonderful casting director, Louise Kiely and her team, found a vast array of potential Aidie’s - both up and coming and established. But Karen has a special spark that fit with my vision for Aidie. She showed an interesting combination of strength and vulnerability that felt right for the character.”

What’s next for you?

“There are few projects circling but the script that I just finished is a true story about a singer from Sarajevo who makes it from the besieged city to the Irish stage as a competitor in the Eurovision Song Contest.”

‘Cellar Door’ releases in Irish cinemas on Friday, January 25th.

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