It’s all in a day’s work for Damir Catic, senior assistant manager at the Edwards Marq*E Theater: Monitor concession sales. File employee timecards. Investigate reports of paranormal activity.
“About three years ago here,” Catic recalled recently during an interview at his megaplex, “a customer goes to me and says, ’Sir, your theater is haunted.’ And I was like, ‘Say what?’ So I have to follow the standard procedure: I had to go into the auditorium and look for a ghost.”
Specifically, Catic went looking for what the customer had described as “a crawling solider” who repeatedly distracted from the action on screen by “disappearing into the wall.” (And no, before you ask: The solider wasn’t brandishing a cellphone.)
In many Hispanic households, parents often caution their own children that if they don’t behave, Maria may snatch them and claim them for her own.
“So I go in there — and I didn’t find a crawling soldier, needless to say. Just a bunch of people watching the movie, and then looking at me, asking, ‘What are you looking for?’ And I said, ‘Ahhh, I don’t know . . .’ ”
For days afterward, Catic regaled other theater employees with the story of his unsuccessful ghost hunt. Most of the people he spoke with were amused by his misadventure. But, much to Catic’s surprise, a few others didn’t find the talk of troublesome spirits funny at all.
And that’s when Catic first heard about the legend he references in his debut effort as a feature filmmaker, the filmed-in-Houston Her Cry: La Llorona Investigation.
For the benefit of those who tuned in late: La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman”) is a fearsome mythical figure — a bogeywoman, if you will — who has long loomed large in Hispanic culture throughout the United States and Latin America. There are several variations of the legend, but most involve Maria, a mysterious woman who drowned her children in a vain effort to please her significant other, and then found herself banned from heaven until she could retrieve her slain youngsters.
In many Hispanic households, parents often caution their own children that if they don’t behave, Maria may snatch them and claim them for her own. So quiet down, respect your elders, eat your spinach and go to sleep when it’s your bedtime.
The more he heard about La Llorona from his Hispanic employees, the more Catic was intrigued. A Bosnian émigré who had attended film school in Sarajevo before he fled his war-torn homeland in 1992, he had long wanted to direct a feature film.
“And when I began to hear these stories,” Catic said, “of course, my mind went to work right away: ‘Hmmm. Maybe . . .’ ”
"In a horror movie, the star of the movie is the genre itself. People don’t go to a horror movie to see who’s in it."
Ron Gelner, Catic’s friend, co-writer and production partner, had a similar response when Catic repeated the stories to him. “I began to ask around, talking to friends and business associates,” Gelner said. “And you know what? Every Latino person I talked to knew what I was talking about when I mentioned La Llorona.”
And so the adventure began.
The Movie Journey
It took more than three years of writing and re-writing, shooting and re-shooting, pre-production planning and post-production refinements, for Catic and Gelner to develop their first-time, DIY indie project from promising concept to finished product. More than once during their extended and exhausting efforts, they found themselves agreeing with the director played by Francois Truffaut as his own semi-autobiographical alter ego in Day for Night: “Making a film is like taking a stagecoach ride in the Old West. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive.”
As first-time filmmakers, Catic said, “You’re always looking for perfection. Which we could not afford. I mean, I knew George Clooney wouldn’t be in the picture.
“But I always remembered what someone told me a long time ago: ‘In a horror movie, the star of the movie is the genre itself. People don’t go to a horror movie to see who’s in it.’ ”
“We knew what we wanted to see,” Gelner added. “And we knew what we thought the audience wanted to see.”
Most of the actual filming was done on Sundays, Gelner said, “because that was the only day we could all get together.” They assembled a pick-up cast of local nonprofessionals with limited acting experience — and, in some cases, with extremely limited knowledge about the nuts-and-bolts of indie filmmaking. Catic recalled: “One of them asked, ‘Is this going to be done in 3D?’ I said, ‘Maybe in three years, but not 3D.’ ”
Ultimately, however, the novice filmmakers found the actors they needed — including top-billed James Ezrin, Gabrielle Santomauro and Nichole Ceballos — to give them the performances they wanted. And they were able to complete their low-budget but high-concept flick — a “found footage” thriller about TV producers investigating reports of La Llorona sightings in an abandoned house — in time for showcasing at last spring’s WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival, where it picked up a special Gold Remi award.
But can Her Cry: La Llorona Investigation really compete against more heavily hyped movies at the box-office? Catic thinks it has more than a ghost of a chance.
At the Marq*E — one of seven Houston area theaters where his film is on view — Catic noted: “You see the poster in the lobby? Some people, when they walk by — they don’t want to touch it. And when I ask them about it, they don’t want to talk about it. They’ll say things like, ‘Oh, no, my mom used to warn me about [La Llorona] for years. And then I couldn’t sleep at night.’ So, you know, I think I have something here.
“It’s funny: My goal in life has been to see a movie poster with my name on it in a movie theater. But the goal went away for 20 years. Only now it is being allowed. So if anyone ever tells you that it’s impossible — it’s possible. Follow your dream.”