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The Whistler: Director Gisberg Bermudez On Keeping The Horrific Folklore To Venezuelan Tradition [Exclusive Interview]

In Venezuelan folklore, The Whistler is a ghost that will strike after hearing a terrifying whistle. Just imagine hearing the Jaws theme song before it actually kills you.

The Whistler is based on a children’s folktale to scare bad children. In this film version, the retelling is about a phantasmagorical figure that wanders the night for terrorizing the drunk, the unfaithful and children. A father struggles to find the origins of The Whistler’s curse in order to stop the worsening possession of his daughter by a supernatural entity.

This film stars Fernando Giviria, Leonidas Urbina, Vladimir Garcia, Valeria Oribio and Martin Marquez. It is directed by Gisberg Bermudez and written with Gisyerg Bermudez and Irina Dendiouk.

LRM Online had the opportunity to speak over the phone with director Gisberg Bermudez on this project. We talked about the Venezuelan folklore, developing the whistle and keeping everything authentic by filming in remote areas.

The Whistler is a Spanish-language film with English subtitles. It is currently playing at the Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles and will be followed by more US cities. It will be released on VOD this fall.

Read our exclusive interview below.

Gisberg Bermudez: Thanks for doing this. Thanks for taking your time.

LRM Online: Not a problem. I’ve checked out your film, The Whistler. The concept behind the film is really a terrifying. [Laughs] Where did the original idea came from for yourself?

Gisberg Bermudez: Well, it’s from a folktale from Venezuela. Since we were kids, my parents, in my case, would terrify us with a story of the whistler. This whistler is a guy that comes up to you at night if you don’t behave good. He comes out and can get you. It’s a very Venezuelan concept. You hear the whistle from far away, which means he’s coming closer. He comes after bad people. In our case, bad kids at that moment.

Ever since then, it stuck to me. It was on how creepy that was. A whistle would mean horrific thing was about to happen. It started back then when I was a kid.

LRM Online: Was the legend very similar to the film’s story? A person that was tied up, abused and many other things?

Gisberg Bermudez: Not really. The legend is from very short stories. Basically, his parents didn’t want him. He was secluded by his grandfather and his dad. Eventually, he was older and fight back against them. He was able to win, but the dog went after him. He was eaten by the dog. The only thing he was actually afraid as a specter was a dog. It was more of an anecdote than a story.

LRM Online: Interesting. How did you want to make this urban legend to become a horror film?

Gisberg Bermudez: I’m originally from Venezuela. I left Venezuela when I was a rather younger. For personal reasons, I, I moved away from Venezuela, I wanted to get back to Venezuela somehow. I am wanting to tell a very unique story that wasn’t told before.

One time I bought audio that was circulating about the whistler legend. They made a folk song about it. My brother and I were trying to go back to Venezuela and make a film that will get us close to who we are. From there, we thought that what better way is to do a film about the whistler. It is the only Venezuelan folk tale, which is the whistler. All the other stories are spreaded around Latin America like La Llorona. Everyone in Latin America knows that story. Of course, each place makes it unique. As for the whistler, it’s our own story. We started writing and it was actually writing about our story of Venezuela. That’s how that came about.

LRM Online: Talk about coming up with the whistle, the tune itself. Did you come up with that or did you actually did some research?

Gisberg Bermudez: We did a lot of research. That was probably the most difficult part of the post production. The whistle is the same as it is known. That rhythm is the exact same one on known in Venezuela. We wanted to hit the public with a surprise. We wanted a different type of a whistle. We did a lot of experiments. Our music director created a few notes. It uses more air as I want it to be a whistle seem like as it was air going through the windows.

We started testing with the public, the reactions were really not as good as we hope. People were so used to the whistle. People would get turned out. The whistle is the scariest part for this Venezuelan lore. We went back and got to stick to that part of the story of this. We ended up keeping the same whistle.

LRM Online: I found the a whistle to be quite terrifying itself. So was it from a musical instrument or did you guys whistle it yourself?

Gisberg Bermudez: We whistled it ourselves. The musician and myself actually locked ourselves in a studio doing the closest we can get to the original. We did some tweaks in post-production. But, we did it ourselves.

LRM Online: I’m curious. How long did that take? How many takes?

Gisberg Bermudez: Many, many. It actually took the whole afternoon. It started off as not easy. Once we got started practicing, it became just easier. As soon as we record in playback, it was a comedy. [Laughs] The whistle would not have an effect. We realized then that it was going to take a lot of practice and a lot of more tries.

It took us on a few more tries. We went to a theater and played it on a surround. It wasn’t as strong. The Venezuelan public craves the whistle. The result we got, I was very pleased. We saw the people coming out of the theater trying to do the same whistle. People are terrified just by the whistle. It does have a huge impact, at least with the people from our area.

LRM Online: One of the things that I loved about watching your movie is your color scheme. That cinematography. Could you talk more about that? Why you adapted it that way?

Gisberg Bermudez: We have to thank our cinematographer Gerard Uzcategui. He is a great cinematographer. We wanted to create a specific ambiance. The movie was told in two different time periods. The two [periods] are very similar in terms of color. I didn’t want the color to tell the story. I didn’t want the colors to jump at people. We tried to be very subtle. The different palettes were very similar.

We went the area where the film with the folktale took place and just try to emulate the feeling. In the movie, it is two different time periods, but we tried to portray that history don’t change. We don’t change. We tried to make a movie that it was almost like it was suspended on time. Time has passed, but everything’s remained the same. That was the concept behind. Keeping the objects and the visuals as very similar, but not the same. By not using technology, we don’t really get to the point which time it is until the end. That was the whole concept of it.

LRM Online: In an indie horror film like this, did it prove to be more difficult to handle production in a remote location in a smaller cast?

Gisberg Bermudez: Yes, absolutely. It was difficult. We had a very limited budget. We didn’t have a budget for special effects. All the effects had to be done in camera in a truly remote location, which the weather was awful. Not to mention at this time on what the Venezuelans were going through. Things became a lot more difficult.

It was also good when you’re filming away from everything. People started to live within the fiction. A lot of things started to happen behind the camera. It got people united and very focused on the project itself. Things happened, like I said, one of our locations burned down. In the middle of our shooting, a lot of our props were burned. People were really believed in the fiction we were creating on camera and behind camera as well.

LRM Online: That’s a pretty funny. Where was this remote location took place that you actually filmed at?

Gisberg Bermudez: It’s right where the Andes end., It’s called El Vigia, right on the edge of the Andes, which is close to the border between Venezuela and Columbia. That area is already fairly remote. From there, it was about 20 miles inland. In the movie, the folktale takes place on the Venezuelan plane. It had a lot of difficult dynamics, so we couldn’t get there. We went through the other side of the planes, crossing the Andes, on getting to our location.

We couldn’t find hotel rooms. We had to rent people’s houses, so we can actually be hosted in that town. It was quite logistic nightmare per se.

LRM Online: Why didn’t you just choose a more urban location rather in the remote countryside or something more familiar?

Gisberg Bermudez: For many reasons. The most important for me was that I wanted this to try to be a universal film. Venezuela was going through so many issues at the moment. It is still going on with many issues. I wanted to separate our cast and crew from everything. I really wanted to be immersed in the whole process of the film.

In addition, with a lot of the actors, I cast together with Irina Dendiouk, our casting director. It was an intense casting research and search. We went almost throughout the whole country. In this place where we shot, it was very close to the majority of the actors, which there were not actors at the moment. At least 80% of the cast were not actors. They’ll live by where we shot, at least 30 minutes or an hour away from there. From the production point of view, it’s easier to shoot there.

LRM Online: So the decision to use a non-actors was just because of the convenience of the location rather than a purposeful decision.

Gisberg Bermudez: Not necessarily. Like I said before, it was an extensive casting. The decision was made that we believed that there were the right people for the role, even if they were not actors. We added a specific type or persona to be filled. These people were it. We decided after meeting each one of them.

We were actually established in that area of the Andes. It had a very successful acting school there. The decision was always the best actor gets the job. They may be not full-time actors, but at least trained actors at the moment.

LRM Online: Let me start wrapping things up with you. Can you talk about future projects? Do you want to stick in the horror genre?

Gisberg Bermudez: For the moment, my niche project is on the horror. It’s hard to pin my next project on a specific genre. It is a horror, as well as a thriller. It has a gothic distinct to it. It’s a movie that was written by Clarissa Jacobbson, who is based in Los Angeles. It is a movie about Elizabeth Bathory. It is definitely a more bloodier movie than The Whistler. It’s a great script and great story. It’s based on real events. Elizabeth Bathory was a countess around the 1600s in the Austrian-Hungarian region. It is the story about her and her horrific accomplishments. We are gearing things up.

There will also be a spin on an American version of The Whistler. That’s actually in the works as we speak.

LRM Online: Speaking of the American spin and your original The Whistler, what do you think about taking Hispanic lore like La Llorona and white washing it for American audiences.

Gisberg Bermudez: I actually haven’t seen the film myself. I’m going to definitely view it, because my concerns had always been to be real to the story. To me, that was one of my biggest concern with The Whistler, as a Venezuelan folktale. I was, I lived outside Venezuela most of my life.

I think they might noticed a great commercial value and that is positive. Like I said, I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know. It’s a big part of a culture. I believe we should try for us to also contribute is to tell our own stories with our own folktales. There are big opportunities for young creators, for filmmakers, for producers to tap into those stories. Our culture, it’s a fountain of stories. We need to do this in the proper way, with the right way.

LRM Online: With your Americanized version, would that also be based like in Venezuela or are you going to try to basically put it here in the United States?

Gisberg Bermudez: We’re going try to put it here in a way that obviously makes sense. It has to actually be believable. It has to maintain the value of the culture and what means for the people in Venezuela.

LRM Online: And I’m just assuming it’s also going to be in English.

Gisberg Bermudez: Absolutely.

LRM Online: Great answers. Thank you very much for this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed your film. The Whistler really scared me.

Gisberg Bermudez: Thank you so much, Gig. Thanks for the time and for the support.

The Whistler is a Spanish-language film with English subtitles. It is currently playing at the Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles and will be followed by more US cities. It will be released on VOD this fall.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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