After making her directing debut on micro-budgeted, B&W suspense film Johnny Ghost, Donna McRae is writing and plans to direct one segment of a horror anthology set in Tasmania.

Also, McRae and her husband Michael Vale have written the script for Le Chien qui Fume – A Smokey Life, a bizarre tale about a dog that lived in Europe in the early 20th Century, wore men’s clothing and smoked cigarettes.

McRae is balancing her role as a filmmaker with lecturing in film and television at Deakin University. The untitled horror film is being produced by Unicorn Films’ Lizzette Atkins and will enlist five writers-directors, all female: McRae, Ursula Dabrowsky, Isabel Peppard, Briony Kidd and Rebecca Thomson.

“The stories are all set around a small haunted Tasmanian town and are intertwined with each other,” she tells IF. The tagline says: “Apocalyptic visions, bloodthirsty curses, creatures gone mad, a voodoo granny, a rape revenge reversal and a sadomasochistic sugar daddy make up one gory and gruesome horror flick that will change the Australian cinema landscape forever. In a small Tasmanian town, haunted by its past and terrified by its future, these five stories play out.”

Le Chien is based on an art project by McRae and Vale and they plan to co-direct. Development has been supported by Film Victoria and Screen Australia. Producer Liz Burke pitched the project at the CineMart co-production market in Rotterdam in January.

The plot follows an Australian academic, Dr. Sylvie Gaspard, who believes that her family owns a "lost" painting by the great Belgian artist James Ensor. The painting depicts a smoking dog performing in a small circus tent. Sylvie, an expert in French surrealist poetry, soon discovers that the painting is merely a clue to a much deeper mystery – the forgotten life of a smoking, upright-walking dog believed to have wandered through the formative years of 20th Century art.

Nadine Garner and Christian Manon appeared in a trailer to promote the film and McRae hopes both will act in the film. “This film is a meditation on the role of the outsider in history,” she said.

Shot for just $30,000, Johnny Ghost played on the underground festival circuit, was distributed on VoD and DVD in the US by Los Angeles-based Continuum Motion Pictures, and is being released in Australia on DVD via Titan View. It stars Anni Finsterer as a Melbourne punk turned academic who finds her past returning to haunt her.

McRae financed the film using her PhD scholarship. Her exegesis was Phantasy: The Spectre in Cinema, a scholarly body of written work which supported the film.

“I am now working at Deakin University and would encourage any other filmmaker interested in this model to approach me,” she said. “The University is a place where you can be supported to research an area that you are interested in and produce a project to sit beside the written work. It is a viable alternative to the government funding model and one that practitioners can access in order to produce work.”

The thriller will screen at the Hoyts EQ in Sydney on March 14 to promote the DVD release.


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