Catherine Corman on Growing Up Corman and Shooting Short Film “Lost Horizon” on Super 8 [Interview]

Catherine Corman is a photographer, filmmaker, and talented artist in her own right. She is also the daughter of the legendary filmmaker and launcher of careers Roger Corman and producer Julie Corman. Catherine recently made a short film titled “Lost Horizon” starring her father and sister, Mary Tessa Corman, which is currently in competition for an Academy Award.

Bloody Disgusting was able to speak with Catherine about the film, her famous father, and growing up with a community of artists in Los Angeles.

Bloody Disgusting: Your new film “Lost Horizon” is really wonderful. What led you to making it?

Catherine Corman: Oh, thank you, Brian. My sister and I drove home from New York at the beginning of the pandemic to be with our family. We all made a list of our favorite films—based on the AFI, BFI, and Cahiers du Cinema 100 greatest film lists—and spent the year watching them together. After seeing 100 films, I started making my own.

BD: It has a very personal, almost home movie feel to it. It’s shot on 8mm and features your sister and father in important roles. Can you tell me about those choices?

CC: It very much is a home movie. We shot it with no crew, on a little hand-held Super 8 camera, at home, in the streets of Hollywood, and at a used book and record shop. The pandemic dictated a lot of that. Some of my favorite films are experimental diaristic films, like those made by Jonas Mekas or Stan Brakhage, so that form feels very natural to me. And I’m not very skilled with technology, so I sort of belong in the analog world anyway.

Mary Tessa Corman in LOST HORIZON, directed by Catherine Corman, and based on the work of Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano. It has been long-listed for the Best Short Film Academy Award. PHOTO: Catherine Corman / LOST HORIZON

BD: It also evokes an L.A. of the past, something you’ve also done in your stunning photography work. Were you looking to portray a bit of the Hollywood you grew up in for the film?

CC: Oh, thanks, Brian. That’s really kind of you – I didn’t know you knew my photographs. Well, it’s something about Los Angeles that feels very real to me. We grew up going to the Cannes Film Festival with my father, and then traveling through Europe on our way home. Walking through all those old cities, hundreds of years of history would shine through. You would see traces of past versions of the city in the midst of present-day city life. So much of LA is torn down and rebuilt all the time. When I was shooting my book of photographs of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles, a third of the places I shot were torn down by the time the book was published. Marion Davies’ beach house [Del Rey Beach Club in The Big Sleep] was in the midst of being demolished as I photographed it. I had to sneak up a dilapidated driftwood staircase to get those shots. It always feels more real to me when there are glimpses of an older, lost, past city hiding within the shiny, new, present-day version. There is a shot of Jacqueline [the lead character in “Lost Horizon” played by Mary Tessa Corman] walking by Greta Garbo’s old apartment from her early days as an actress, when she couldn’t have known whether she would make it or not, under narration of Jacqueline saying she feels lost, adrift, wandering through the city at night.

BD: You grew up in Hollywood as a Corman just as people seemed to really be realizing how influential your father has been on filmmakers and filmmaking. Did you have a sense of his and your mother’s importance to the industry as you were growing up, or did that realization come later for you?

CC: It was more a sense of community. My mother is younger, but my father knew people who traced back to the McCarthy era. He was in Jack Corey’s legendary acting class, along with Jack Nicholson and Robert Towne. Jack Corey was a brilliant actor who was blacklisted and didn’t think twice about giving up his public career out of loyalty to his ideals and to the film community, refusing to turn in a single person. But you see the strength of that, the power of his commitment to his art. Some of the most brilliant actors, directors, and writers of New Hollywood came out of his class. He carried on a deep, honest, true tradition, in a way underground, and it came back stronger, flourished even more perhaps, because his students saw how serious his art was to him, and how impossible it was for him to compromise his ideals. Even when he had to sacrifice his public career as a result. So, I think that was the sense I got of the most truly, deeply important part of the film world and my father’s relationship to it. I think you see it in films like The Wild Angels. There’s a deep, quiet knowing that sort of resists the vicissitudes of the world. A sense that the whole world can be very wrong, but you carry on with something inside you that is true and real and unstoppable, and must be expressed.

Academy Award winner Roger Corman in LOST HORIZON, directed by his daughter Catherine, and based on the work of Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano. It has been long-listed for the Best Short Film Academy Award. PHOTO: Catherine Corman / LOST HORIZON

BD: How did their experiences as producers and artists influence you?

CC: I would say it was the community of artists they always had around them. Our home was a gathering place for filmmakers, artists, sculptors, writers, and architects. That just felt like ordinary life to me growing up because I never knew anything else. The only adults I really knew were deeply committed to making art, so that’s just what I assumed adulthood was, that the purpose of growing up was that one day you would be able to make your art.

BD: Is there something you can share about your father–character traits, interests, etc.–that might surprise people?

CC: He’s so often referred to as a maverick or a radical but he really has a love of all cinema. He is always interested in what is groundbreaking, new, revolutionary. There’s a line Joan Didion wrote about him, I think when he was making motorcycle pictures, that in his films she found news she wasn’t getting from The New York Times. But despite all of this, he really loves classical cinema too. Those were some of the films he chose first when we were compiling our family’s hundred favorite films. Although now that I say that, his favorite old black and white picture is Battleship Potemkin, which is the very definition of revolutionary…

BD: Your father’s role in “Lost Horizon” also has a cool connection to some of his most famous films. Can you talk about that a bit?

CC: Oh, yes – there was a poetic coda to the film, which I think you might appreciate, as I’ve read your writing on my father’s Poe films. He plays a character named Guy de Vere, based on the real-life French philosopher Guy Debord. Patrick Modiano, the author of the novel the film is based on, went to the same cafés on the Left Bank my father did when he was living in Paris after college. Modiano created fictional versions of the scholars, artists, and philosophers he encountered, and he found the pseudonym Guy de Vere in a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. It wasn’t until after we shot the film that I realized that coincidence—a little moment of synchronicity.

Mary Tessa Corman in LOST HORIZON, directed by Catherine Corman, and based on the work of Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano. It has been long-listed for the Best Short Film Academy Award. PHOTO: Catherine Corman / LOST HORIZON

BD: Do you have any hopes or plans to make more films?

CC: Yes, actually. We’ve shot the sequel to this film, based on another chapter of the same book, in which my sister plays a lost girl and my father plays the detective trying to find her. And I received wonderful news from Kodak – it looks like they are going to lend me the prototype of the new Super 8 Camera to shoot my next short film. Apparently, this is the only film shot on Super 8 in competition for an Academy Award this year, and Kodak has been very supportive. My next film is based on a novel by the same author as this one. We’re in pre-production at the moment, hoping to shoot in downtown LA in the winter.

BD: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Is there anything else you’d like people to know about “Lost Horizon?”

CC: Yes, I just wanted to say that so much sort of magically materialized to make this film happen. Even though it feels like a tiny film, it took a lot to get it made. But there was an alchemy to it, little coincidences and synchronicities, like Guy Debord of the Left Bank becoming Edgar Allan Poe’s Guy de Vere, or certain locations in present day Hollywood somehow resonating or rhyming with locations Modiano wrote about in 1960s Paris. It’s almost like the more impossible it seemed it would be to make this film with no crew and no budget in the middle of a pandemic, the more these synchronicities emerged and crystallized to urge the film onward. There were times it felt like the film made itself in a way, and I was just there to shepherd it along.

Mary Tessa Corman in LOST HORIZON, directed by Catherine Corman, and based on the work of Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano. It has been long-listed for the Best Short Film Academy Award. PHOTO: Catherine Corman / LOST HORIZON