COMING TO THE SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL with his debut feature film, a bit of Suburban Gothic called The World is Full of Secrets, NYC-based filmmaker Graham Swon may very well have thought his film the underdog. An unconventional entry into the horror genre, The World is Full of Secrets takes audiences back to the suburban landscape of 1996, where, with the parents out of town, 15-year-old girls at a sleepover compete to tell the most terrible and frightening story they know. Monologue-driven and starring age-appropriate actors, the project took more than three years to bring to the screen, and Swon walked away with the Independent Visions Award for the effort. SRQ went behind the scenes to talk genre filmmaking and the festival circuit.

As your first feature, did you feel prepared?     I felt very prepared actually. I come from a theater background, and I’ve done directing in theater, so I had a very good grip in terms of working with actors. I’ve produced a lot of independent films, and it’s a similar-sized film, so I had a good grip on the organizational/producing concerns that become a huge amount of energy when you’re making that type of film—making sure everybody has food, making sure the insurance paperwork has been filed, making sure the car has been rented.

Why horror?   I find it interesting because it is a genre built around an idea that the audience is signing up to enter something that is designed to make them uncomfortable in some way. It’s pushing against the typical impulse one attaches to the idea of entertainment. The audience can go into strange places. It’s not necessarily as reliant on normal ideas of narrative and it’s where a lot of my ideas connect.

From Romero to Peele, horror is also a tradition steeped in social commentary. Does your film carry this on?    Horror is a genre that has a certain moral component, and there is a social component to the film, though it’s not necessarily the driving engine of the film. I consciously and intentionally consider the film to be feminist, but I wouldn’t want to underline anything in particular too much. Let viewers have the response they want to have. I was very concerned with how you could deal with some of the subject matter in an ethical way as an artist, to allow the audience to engage in a way that I didn’t think was exploitative of the stories being told. 

What is the importance of film festivals for emerging artists?   Film festivals, in general, are extraordinarily important because, not only for an independent film like mine but even for a mid-size film, there are very few paths to be able to test your film. And on a business level, it’s the best way that you can get publicity and attention around the film and use that fuel to launch the film into broader distribution. Being able to build a profile and make connections through the festival is very important.

Where does Sarasota Film Festival fit in?   It’s become one of the stops on what I regard as a serious independent film circuit, through the virtue of having some really bold programmers. A lot of films that are outside of the norm get to go through this place, and it has built up a good reputation for itself in the broader community.

What’s next?   The film is touring quite heavily, so I’m traveling a lot with it this summer and working on trying to solidify a relationship for releasing the film. As a producer, I’ve got three films in varying levels of production right now with different filmmakers. And then I’m trying to write a script. 


FILM SYNOPSIS FOR THE WORLD IS FULL OF SECRETS  What’s the scariest story you know? An elderly woman—seemingly addressing us from the future—looks back on a harrowing night in the 1990s when she and a group of teenage girlfriends gathered for a sleepover to swap spooky tales and dabble in some occult mischief. But what begins as seemingly harmless adolescent fun is only a prelude to a horror that remains tantalizingly unseen and unspoken. Unfolding in a trancelike haze of dreamy dissolves, spectral double exposures and audacious long takes, this visually sublime fusion of avant-garde aesthetics and classic old-dark-house atmospherics bristles with the hushed, candlelit air of a séance.