TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: FLORA + Interview with writer/director Sasha Louis Vukovic

One of my favorite film genres is sci-fi mystery. It’s also a genre indie filmmakers have thrived at, which includes some of my favorites such as Never Let Me Go (2012), The Machine (2014), Ex Machina (2015), and one of my faves that screened at Twin Cities Film Fest in 2014, Time Lapse.

One of the most intriguing films that played at TCFF this year is a feature film debut by Canadian filmmaker Sasha Louis Vukovic. I had the pleasure of meeting Sasha as well as lead actress Teresa Marie Doran briefly during the film fest, but we didn’t get to connect for the interview until after.

Thanks to FC blogger Holly Peterson for the review and interview questions!

In the summer of 1929 -at the end of the golden age of exploration- an expedition of Ivy League University Botanists enter an uncharted forest on the North American frontier. Tasked to study the native flora, the students unearth a deadly organism and are soon in a fight with nature itself, where they must use their limited resources to understand, survive and escape the wild and terrifying forest that surrounds them.

FlixChatter review (courtesy of Holly Peterson):

A misunderstood villain is not a new idea. Excessive violence perpetrated at the hands of a gentle being goes back at least as far as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the 1800s and I am sure I could come up with an earlier example if I weren’t so gosh darn tired right now.

Point is, that although audiences are used to villains being villainous, we also understand that sometimes a villain just doesn’t have the right tools to express their good will. Everyone would get along fine if they could just talk out whatever is bothering them.

But what happens when a dealer of death, a perpetrator of violence, is not just misunderstood, but completely oblivious? What if it isn’t even sentient?

That’s the story Flora chooses to explore.

A group of intrepid young scientists treks out to a secluded forest to study it, only to find that their point of contact has gone missing. As the scientists try to unravel the mystery of this disappearance, they also begin to study the forest, which they gradually realize is more dangerous than they anticipated. Flora builds a sense of creeping dread with an intense score and several one-off scenes of tempers flaring and traps being set that you can’t help but expect to snap whenever the score begins to build again.

My one quibble with the film is that it wants its audience to see that it is diverse and doesn’t trust us to notice without calling it to our attention. This is problematic because it really isn’t that diverse to begin with. Half of the characters are white males. The Asian character goes off on a weird, unnecessary tangent about his heritage. One of the female characters has a really awful emotional speech about how she’s “just a nurse” because “they” wouldn’t let her study. The other female character doesn’t even get to tell her own story – it is told by a man behind her back and is an annoying soapbox moment about how talented and unappreciated she is because other people in her field cannot see beyond her gender. There is nothing wrong with a character facing adversity because of their gender or their race, but when six people are stranded in a forest, that is probably the adversity we should focus on.

Of course, there were a couple “DON’T GO INTO THE DARK CREEPY HOUSE BY YOURSELF” variety moments, but I think that’s kind of par for the course as far as horror/suspense goes. Humans don’t always use their best judgment and for the most part I thought the “what are you thinking!?” moments felt pretty organic.

The actors’ performances are solid and it is a compelling experience to watch a group of people fight for their lives without fighting against anything. Definitely worth a watch!

*images courtesy of IMDb

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Sasha Louis Vukovic is a filmmaker from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A graduate of the New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida, and the Chicago College of Performing Arts, in Chicago, Illinois; his 2017 debut feature, Flora, won Best Feature Film at the London International Science Fiction Film Festival, and Best Original Screenplay at the Amsterdam International Film Festival.

FLORA’s DP Eric Irvin and director Sasha Vukovic on set

Q: Where did the idea for the story come from?

The idea for the story came from my personal lack of knowledge about my ecosystem. I was amazed by how little I knew or understood about the Flora that surrounded and interacted with me everyday. So many people come and go through life subsisting and relying on Flora with very little thought of the life of those organisms. I was also fascinated with creating a non-malicious antagonist. A villain with no villainy. Something beautiful and strong.

Q: What was it like shooting a period piece on a budget?

It was excellent fun. And actually a great creative box within which to imagine and create. Every element of the script was written with budget/period in mind. So I actually found it to be quite an interesting puzzle. The period was far more boon than bane.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the shoot?

The most challenging part of the shoot was by far contending with Nature. As the entire film is shot outdoors, we dealt with bugs, rain, heat, wild rivers, storms and dense forests. In many moments it felt as if we as a team were on an expedition into a dense wild forest as well. Thankfully a little less toxic than in the film.

Q: What is it like writing a script about / acting against a non sentient “villain”?

Again, a wonderful challenge. Creating action sequences in which characters are ostensibly running from a stationary pursuer was intersting.

A lot of the film focuses on the eeriness of how silent the forest is, coupled with the mystery of what befell the past humans who inhabited it. That way, suggestion and ambiguity does a great job at allowing the audience to build up a monster in their heads.

Then, the key is creating a believably toxic environment, from which there is an immediate need to escape. Think about the urgency that befalls people during an earthquake or hurricane. Flora is about non-symbiosis, about what happens if we have to run from nature.

Teresa Marie Doran and Dan Lin on the set of FLORA

Q: How did you find your composer?

Our composer Nathan Prillaman is incredible. He was introduced to me by one of our lead actors/executive producers Dan Lin.

Nathan and Dan went to school together as kids and right around the time that we were hunting for our Composer, they ran into one another -for the first time in years- at a dim sum restaurant. It was fantastic luck, and lead to a great creative partnership.


Thanks Sasha for talking to us about your film!

For more info about the making of the film,
check out this article from Sound & Picture magazine:

Check out this behind-the-scenes video of FLORA:

Rental Pick: Time Lapse (2014)

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I saw this back in October when the film was screened at Twin Cities Film Festival. This film is yet another proof one does not need a big budget to create a compelling film, and a tight script certainly goes a long way. Time Lapse isn’t a time travel per se, not in the traditional sense anyway. The time aspect refers to the mysterious camera machine that takes pictures 24 hours into the future.

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The film is basically an ensemble piece of three characters living in the same apartment,  Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn (Matt O’Leary), and Jasper (George Finn). When one of them inadvertently stumbled into the machine during a routine property maintenance, things quickly unravel. The machine resides in the unit right across from theirs and somehow they’re the ones who end up in the pictures… only a day ahead.

I love the mystery aspect and the filmmaker creates a noir-ish ambience with the lighting and dramatic shadows. Given the low budget, the setting is constrained into this apartment and its courtyard, but that actually gives you a sense of claustrophobia that enhances the tension. The camera machine itself looks rather ominous and it made you wonder just what that thing is really capable of. What makes this sci-fi thriller intriguing is the psychology aspect of how the discovery affects each character and slowly transforms them before they realize what hits them. It amplifies the worst trait of each of them… whether it’s greed, desire or paranoia. It’s quite fun to watch how this discovery changes them and in turn their relationship with each other.

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All three actors fit the roles nicely. I’m especially drawn to Finn’s character Jasper, I suppose the bad boys always have more fun. O’Leary is perhaps a bit too reserved and melancholy as Finn, though he does present a nice contrast to Jasper’s more impulsive nature. There’s a bit of love triangle going on between the three, as Callie & Finn are an item whilst Jasper isn’t quite subtle about his [lustful] feelings for Callie. As the only girl in the group, Callie is a bit of a mystery to me, but in a way it works for the story.

The script by Bradley King and BP Cooper is pretty tightly-focused whilst somehow still maintain a level of quirks and humor throughout. Jasper sure does some dumb things as his greed overtakes him. As he tries to use the machine for monetary gain, he ended up getting involved with some shady characters and you know things won’t end well. But yet the film still manages to surprise you in one violent scene. Even that scene isn’t devoid of humor, making you wince as well as laugh at the same time.

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As with a lot time travel movies, the logic doesn’t always compute but the story is engaging and keeps you guessing right until the end. I have to admit that I didn’t see the twist coming, but once it’s revealed it made me think about some of the events that happened that lead to that point. It’s certainly in keeping with how the machine basically messes with the characters’ head, and how even they themselves were caught off guard by it in the end.

There are very few special effects in this movie, but the filmmaker did invest in creating this retro-looking camera machine that has that steam-punk quality to it. During the Q&A after the screening, King shared that he worked with a concept artist named Howard Schechtman and he made it clear I didn’t want any LEDs or lasers or computer chips, etc. They ended up using parts from an airplane junkyard, hardware stores, even those from the abandoned apartment complex itself. I thought that was pretty darn cool.

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There’s a Hitchcock-ian vibe to this film, the minimalist setting is enhanced by an atmospheric score by Andrew Kaiser. This film won Indie Vision: Breakthrough Film award at last year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. It’s a well-deserved win as I’m VERY impressed by King’s feature film debut and would keep an eye out for what he’s going to do next.

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This movie is now available on available on iTunes & Amazon.

Check out my interview with Bradley King and George Finn at 2014 TCFF


Have you seen Time Lapse? Well, what do you think?