Tantrika director Shawn Travis
While local artist Shawn Travis may be known to many for his band 1,000 Cranes, he is also a filmmaker with three films under his belt. Tantrika, his third film, debuts Friday May 27th at Rice Media Center. We contacted him to discuss the movie.
FPH – Tell us about the film?
Travis - Tantrika is the story of seven upper middle class WASP’s who are part of an online meetup group which has different meet up objectives each month with different members attending, all of the meetings put the attendees way out of their element. This month they have to break into an abandoned house and stay the whole night there. They know each other only by email addresses (e.g. felon101), but not in person before the movie starts. They break into the house and stay the night there, drinking and socializing with each other. As the night wears on they encounter horror after horror. The word tantrika means a practitioner of Buddhist tantra (vajrayana). The film’s themes are concurrent with some of the meditations and rituals of tantra (sex, death, clear insight). The actors improvised their lines, and they include; the brilliant Houston actor Jason Sweatt, master thespian (and also Houstonian) Ronda Flannery, Susan Blair, Sara Gaston, Jim Lawrence, Chelsea Aldrich and Liza Garner. This film is one and a half hours of horror, death and humor.
FPH – Is this a straight up horror film?
Travis – It follows the conventions of horror by using death and gore and suspense.
FPH – What filmmaker do you find yourself most often looking to for inspiration and why?
Travis -Werner Herzog because he’s brilliant. He makes filmmaking seem so effortless, and many of his films are priceless gems. Jean Luc Godard because he’s brilliant. His films are always clever and fresh and amuse me. For this specific film, I was inspired by Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wes Craven’s Halloween, and the films of Stan Brakhage. I have been greatly inspired by the films of horror filmmaker Robert Luke. I look up to Brent Moore and Brandon Ray because they make incredibly hilarious short films.
FPH – In your press release you call it a film but technically this doesn’t look like it’s shot on film. Is it video or HD and what are the advantages of that format?
Travis -It was shot in VHS (and some parts in VHS-C.) The advantages of shooting on VHS is that it is analog. The colors are more crisp and the lines of definition are more sharp. I chose VHS over 35mm or 16mm or Super 8 film because VHS (and even HiDef) is vegan, and film stock is sometimes made with animal components.
FPH – How does this in any way relate to your work with 1,000 Cranes either directly, tangentially, or conceptually?
Travis -I’m glad you noticed. This relates very closely to A Thousand Cranes. Thank you for asking. I must use this space to give credit where credit is due. When I lived in a squat in Mexico City, Iko Lee was one of my squatmates. Iko is a Chilean actor, and one of the best actors alive, and he taught me how far the boundaries of art can go. Iko is brilliantly talented at many forms of acting, and the period when I met him he kept on talking about sacred theater. I didn’t know what he was talking about and at first I thought he was just holding theater on a pedestal, until I saw him do a Butoh performance at a theater. His piece was beyond art, it was moving and affected me in a profound manner, an unreligious spiritual experience. After seeing his performances I knew what he meant by sacred art. He made something sacred while at the same time he made real art. A Thousand Cranes does that in our music. And Tantrika is a yantra, it is a form of mandala.
FPH – This is your third film. How is this one compared to your other films and where do you see your work progessing?
Travis – Tantrika builds on what I have learned from the past films and what I am experiencing in life. Just as the previous answer talks about Iko and his theater, I don’t think I would’ve made Tantrika if I hadn’t developed the chops as a director beforehand to do a good job making cinematic art. The acting in the movie is improvised, and I have made short films which were improvised, but this is the first feature I have made to utilize it. The improvisation comes in part from my political beliefs, which are geared toward direct democracy and freedom. Although this film wasn’t collectively made (as in consensus-based decision making, nonhierarchical), some of my short films have been; the improvisation of the actors was a step in the direction of my beliefs. I hope to successfully reconcile anarchist organizing models, buddhist themes, and cinematic art in my future as a filmmaker.
FPH – You work in various mediums. To what extent does your work on one, inform the others?
Travis – Each style of creative art I have worked in has molded my perception in seeing the world. All the works I have made or been in are interdependent on everything else I have made or been in. I actually got into film because I liked to express myself in many of the creative arts; music, sculpture, writing, drawing, acting, and my brother Danny suggested I do film because it is very much a fusion of many art forms. I thought he made a good point. I learned that film is it’s own art, and it has it’s own craft and elements which make it up. So I have been learning the craft, but certainly allowing my expressive nature freedom to include of my perceptions to affect the others. A Thousand Cranes’ shows might be theatrical, my films might have sculptures as main characters, my drawings might be narrative, etc.
Tantrika premieres at the Rice Media Center on May 27th, 8pm