Bunker returns to Milwaukee Film Festival with dark, modern "Little Red"
It took five years, but Milwaukee filmmaker Tate Bunker is finally ready to debut his feature film, "Little Red."
Currently wrapping up post-production and scheduled to premiere at the Milwaukee Film Festival, the film has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
The festival alum's latest work – a sinister adventure that follows a revamped Little Red Riding Hood through the perils of modern society – began simply as a fun side project do put together with his niece, Paige.
"As a young girl (she) was just kind of a firecracker," said Bunker. "I had already been kind of going through this idea in my head, and then someone was telling me about Cumberland Island and suddenly this whole idea came to me."
Bunker's idea soon evolved into "Resurrection Ferns," which cast Paige as an adventurous little girl's journey to see the wild horses of Florida's Cumberland Island.
It wasn't long, though, before the idea found more outside inspiration.
"After I had been kind of working with the story I talked about it with filmmaker Brad Pruitt, and he was like, 'Well you know, it sounds like "Little Red Riding Hood,"' explained Bunker. "Once I got that Little Red Riding Hood idea, I took it as my guide to kind of get through the film."
With Paige as Kayla, Red's savvy older sidekick, Bunker added Hannah Obst to play the title role in his present-day re-imagining.
"I made a short film called 'The Crown' where the two girls – Paige and Hannah – worked together, and they were both amazing," he said. "I always thought of them as kind of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn-type characters."
His more modern Red wastes no time reflecting that adventurous spirit, either. She ditches her family, hops a plane to Florida and charts her own course with her own rules – an attitude that interested the then 12-year-old Obst.
"She's brave, she's confident, she's vulnerable and she just has a lot of different sides to her," she explained. "It was great, because Tate would give me some general direction but he pretty much let me take it where I wanted to."
Still, the film was missing something. The story just wasn't complete without a Big Bad Wolf lurking in the shadows.
"Immediately when I thought of the wolf character and who I should bring in, (Mark) Metcalf was right in my head," said Bunker. "He brings such darkness to this character and this situation that I don't know anybody else that could have done it."
It's this darkness that sets Bunker's "Little Red" apart from other Little Red Riding Hood stories. Just like the other aspects of the tale were adapted and updated, Bunker wrote the wolf as a more contemporary kind of predator.
"Because I come from an experimental background, I'm not that big a fan of the Hollywood formula," he explained. "I wanted a film that had the same impact of violence and the reality and dangers that are out there, but I didn't want to show it. I wanted somehow to be more indirect, to allow our imaginations to sort of take over."
This open approach was one of the many reasons Metcalf jumped at the chance to join the project.
"It was nice to play the Big Bad Wolf in a kind of abstracted retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fable, without nearly the sort of fairy tale part of it," said Metcalf. "If it was a big Hollywood movie there would be the tendency to do CGI. That's sort of boring for me, to do it with special effects."
Instead, Metcalf and Bunker worked to convey the idea of a wolf through the character's mannerisms, sound and behavior – with decidedly unnerving results.
"I wanted it to be very subtle and almost surreal, and bring an honesty back to that kind of violence and rawness," said Bunker. "The idea that she is always in so much danger and at the same time is unaware of it creates this tremendous tension."
Audiences will be able to experience this tension firsthand when "Little Red" premieres at the Oriental Theatre Sunday, Sept. 30. The 7:15 p.m. opening screening will include appearances from Bunker, Metcalf and Obst, as well as an after-party at Paddy's Pub, 2339 N. Murray Ave.
Tickets are available online and at the festival box office inside the Oriental Theatre.
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