11th Annual Dusty Film Festival 05/16/00 Riding the Broom was picked as the NY Daily News #1 choice to see at the festival.
Riding the Broom Update Page
After viewing Hansi Oppenheimer's short film via the web not so long ago I contacted Hansi about doing a page dedicated to keeping the readers of TWPT up to date about what went into the original short film and about the progress that was being made towards finishing work on a full length version of this film due to be released in 2001. If you have not already heard about this work please use one of the links on the side bar to take a look at this film and then I'm sure that you will want to stop back here often as we bring you the latest news of Riding the Broom. Hansi readily agreed to work with TWPT in this effort and so this page was born. Thanks for stopping by and without further ado we present Riding the Broom by Hansi Oppenheimer.
TWPT: I think we can get this page underway by giving the readers an overview of the film that you have made and what it has taken to get you where you are now. I will let Ms. Oppenheimer do the talking and I will listen along with the rest of you. Be sure to scroll down past the overview for some stills taken from the film and some bio material on the principals involved with producing this film to date.
The Origin of Riding the Broom
Somewhere around that time, I saw the classic film, Bell Book and Candle* again. I had always loved the film, but seeing it as a practicing Witch I felt that the underlying message of the film was that Witches were essentially soul less because they only maintained their "powers" until they fell in love. So I wanted to remake it to show what Wicca really was. I wanted the film to represent the growing Wiccan community of NYC of the late 70's and early 80's that I was familiar with.
I set about casting the remake of the film. Although I discovered that I didn't have the experience or the knowledge to produce and direct a film at that time, I started on the path, which eventually led me to film school.
I thought I had shelved the idea but a few years ago, when I was required to make a thesis film to graduate from film school, I decided to cover love spells. I didn't realize at the time that the interest in the idea of love spells most likely came from my desire to remake Bell, Book and Candle.
Difficulties and Disasters of Production
I used a small digital video camera and a very simple set up of tripod and lav mike that I could handle myself, and I shot the film on weekends.
Most of the interviews were shot at Enchantments, a Goddess Shop in NYC's East Village. The one interview I traveled any distance for was Laurie Cabot's. I made the mistake of scheduling that shoot on Halloween; not realizing that going to Salem on Samhain was crazy. My partner, David and my daughter, Cory came with me to Salem to assist on that shoot. I was very nervous, since Laurie was the first big name I had interviewed. I loved her books, especially the one on love magick. (She is the author of Power of the Witch, Love Magic, Celebrate the Earth and The Witch in Every Woman.)
In Salem we were ushered into the tiny little salon in the back of her shop, The Cat, the Crow & the Crown to speak with her. We could barely fit in the room with the camera. I didn't get the best angle, but I was very excited to get the chance to shoot an interview with her at all. We shot the brief interview with her while the Halloween revelry raged on all around us. The background noise was terrible. I was very impressed with her no-shit attitude and I really liked her. I wished that I had had more time to shoot her in additional locations and under better circumstances.
I wanted to get at least one real ritual on tape for the film, so after the interview we were supposed to follow the Witches League for Public Awareness' on their march through Salem to Gallows Hill where they would do a ritual. So we were following this collection of people in long black capes carrying a sign. We walked behind them dragging our lights, camera, and tripod as we tried to keep up. Somewhere along that path, we discovered that we were now following the WRONG people in long black capes! We had totally lost the WLPA, and couldn't find Gallows Hill. After wandering around hauling the equipment (it was the one time I wanted to have lots of lights and extras), which got heavier and heavier, we finally gave up and headed for home. I discovered later that The New York Times, while covering the ritual, had a similar problem and lost the WLPA on the way back from the ritual. That wasn't the first time I had difficulties shooting a real ritual.
I finally got the ok to shoot another practicing coven. Joe Zuchowski, a HP and one of the regular staff at Enchantments, introduced me to his partner, Jezibell, a HPS and the creator of the Goddess Embodied Workshops. She allowed me to come to their coven meeting and shoot a real ritual to honor Aphrodite, which they had organized for the film. That was a very difficult shoot for me because I wanted to participate, not be outside and observing. It was a very moving experience and I appreciated that the women allowed me to photograph them when they were so vulnerable. It was very interesting to watch the transformation of the women in the coven as they came under the Goddess' spell. When they arrived for the ritual, they were normal looking, some a little heavy, some not heavy enough, but once they began dancing they were so beautiful. I used that magickal footage of them dancing to open the film.
I discovered that I needed to have at least a 2nd camera for the next ritual I shot, and I would need to choreograph the ritual to really capture their beauty and mystery.
All Nighters and Dreaming the Film
Along for The Ride
Another person who really put a lot into the project was my friend & mentor, Richard Pepperman. He has been a professor and a film editor for over 30 years, and he has the most incredible eye for film I have ever encountered.
He would look at the film and say you should have made that edit 2 frames back. And he was always right! Yet he never forced his ideas upon me, and was always thrilled when I found my own solutions.
My partner, David would come by the editing lab each Saturday. He would tirelessly look at the entire film each week to see the minute changes I had made. Even when it got to the point that I couldn't bear looking at the film anymore!
I ate, slept and dreamt about that film. I knew every moment, of every dialogue. I worked endlessly to create a seamless whole out of a million small moments. I felt as if I was pregnant and then delivered that film -it was the main priority in my life. I stopped going to the gym, seeing movies. Finishing that film became the only thing that mattered. And just like after a pregnancy, I felt fat, exhausted and a little sad when it was finally finished and I presented it at the festival.
In order to find people to interview, I spoke with Wiccans that I knew. I began by interviewing my friend, Joe Zuchowski. He usually carved my candles when I stopped in Enchantments over the years, so I approached him first. I then interviewed Mary Alagna, the long-time manager of the store, and then I spoke with Lexa Rosean, the author of The Supermarket Sorceress, The Supermarket Sorceress's Sexy Hexes, The Supermarket Sorceress's Enchanted Evenings, and Easy Enchantments. Lexa used to be one of the original owners of Enchantments, which began almost twenty years ago, splitting off from the original NYC Store, Magickal Childe.
I approached the WLPA for someone to interview for the project and spoke with Cheryl Sulyma- Masson. I thought that they would offer an informed and less personal view of Wicca. And of course, Cheryl put me in touch with Laurie Cabot.
The response from the Wiccans I approached for interviews was really great. As I mentioned, the short was made under very difficult circumstances, so that almost upon completing the film, I felt that I wanted to go back and redo it. I wanted to include some other well-known Witches, and shoot them actually demonstrating their spells. I wanted to hire a DP* so that I could concentrate on the interview process, instead of trying to shoot and interview at the same time.
I began to get in touch with some of the most renowned contemporary Witches, approaching those whose books I especially enjoyed. The first one I spoke with Z Budapest and she was very nice and surprisingly approachable. I also contacted Llewellyn, and spoke with Jami Shoemaker. We discussed the project, and she was very generous helping me to contact a lot of their authors. She also sent me copies of some the books I didn't already have. It was like Christmas, getting these packages of books from Llewellyn!
I eventually contacted Gerina Dunwich, Francesca De Grandis, Patricia Telesco, Migene Gonzalez Wippler, Roger Pinckney, Edain McCoy, Patricia Monaghan, Dorothy Morrison, Ray Buckland, Ray Marlbrough, Silver RavenWolf (actually her assistant David O. Norris) Yasmine Galenorn, Marguerite Elsbeth, Morgana, Angel Hakim, Janet Farrar, Gavin Bone, Sirona Knight, AJ Drew, Raven Grimassi. Only three were unavailable for interviews.
At this point I have shot interviews for the expanded version with Dorothy Morrison, Ray Buckland, Patricia Telesco, Roger Pinckney, Angel Hakim, and Sandi Liss.
My biggest problem was, and still is shooting the authors that live on the West Coast. Although I have the permission to shoot the interviews, I can't finance the trip out there with my crew to shoot them. I tried to get funding for this film, and even got some interest, but it won't come through in time for me to wrap production in January, and finish the film by May 2001.
I know that I will find a distributor for this film, at the very least, Internet distribution. So I feel that I am better off completing this film, and moving on to my next project, rather than waiting for the funding to come through and losing momentum. I am disappointed though, not only because I am not getting the interviews, but also because I am unable to meet some of my favorite authors. I will continue to explore Wicca and Paganism in other films, so I plan to eventually shoot interviews with these people, just about other aspects of the Craft.
I received a lot of interest in Riding the Broom. Much more than I had imagined, since this is my first film and really a student film at that. I have received 14 offers to show and distribute it, to date.
For the most part the Pagan community is the ideal audience for this film.
Although I consciously constructed the film so that Non-Pagans could understand what the Craft really was about, by using authors and experts known primarily to the Pagan community I really tailored the film to their interests.
I got mostly positive feedback from viewers, but occasionally I got an email from someone in the Wiccan community who felt that love spells were frivolous and unethical, and I shouldn't be doing a film about them.
Occasionally I got a nasty email from someone who had such ingrained notions about Witchcraft, that seeing my film didn't effect their views in the slightest, and those reviews were the most unsettling. I wondered if they had even listened to the interviews in the film before sending me comments such as "Evil" or "I don't believe in Witches."
Although love spells can be performed unethically, all the Witches I spoke with made it very clear that one had to be very careful not to manipulate anyone while practicing love magick. I felt that since every Witch in the film repeated those concerns, the film made it clear that Wicca can be a moral and ethical religion.
Promoting the Film
*DP- Director of Photography. Designs the look of the film with the Director. Sometimes in low-no budget films they actually shoot the film.
Richard Pepperman: Consulting Editor on both the short and the forthcoming feature film.
Film editor for 30 years and teacher for more than 20, experienced in all film forms. Winner of ANDY and CLIO awards. Screenwriting Judge, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowships. Consulting Editor on several recent independent features. New York editor for "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight", "A Safe Place" (w/ J. Nicholson and Orson Welles), "The Other Side of Joy" A Randy Hoffman Film, "Say It Isn't So" Seven Arts, "Judge Not" Scorpion Films.
Leonard Lionnet: Composed and created music for Riding the Broom, and will compose score for the forthcoming feature.
His scores for shorts, commercials, and features have appeared on CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN, received theatrical release, and premiered at over 25 festivals. His awards include an Oscar and a CLIO. He recently signed with Walt Disney Pictures / Devillier Donegan for their upcoming series: Islam: Empire of Faith and with Steppingstone Pictures for their upcoming feature, One Last Ride, directed by Chris Firriolo, produced by Ang Lee.
The following are stills are taken from the short film Riding the Broom and represent some of what you will see in the finished film.