I recently had the chance to interview director George Popov about his new film Sideworld: Haunted Forests Of England which serves as a tour around some of the most haunted forests in England, wherein you learn about the forests’ past and supposed supernatural visitors. In this interview we discuss spooks, spectres, and English forests. I hope you enjoy.
Q: What made you want to make this film?
GP: Folkloric tales and legends have always been an inspiration for me and a lot of the narrative projects I’ve been wanting to make and we’ve developed so far, go hand in hand with an overall interest in any kind of dark mythology. At the same time, I’ve always been interested in paranormal or unusual cases and that, alongside opening your imagination for storytelling, are also just really curious from a factual perspective. And not necessarily from the point of view of putting a cap on what’s actually true or not, because that can be very difficult to identify and it can be very procedural. (And there is plenty of documentaries that already do that.) For me, the main interest is combining those perspectives and conveying a strong atmosphere to experience horror myths and legends that the viewer might not be necessarily familiar with. And I think that applies not just for “Haunted forests of England”, but for our intention for the SIDEWORLD series in general.
Q: What was your message?
GP: When it comes to the stories in the documentary, I wouldn’t say we had a desire to necessarily convey a strong subjective point of view. In fact, Jonathan and me were very careful to be both a Mulder and a Scully (or a believer and a sceptic for the non-X-Files-fans out there). The thematic relevance of forests as a setting for all these cases is where we try to make a stronger unifying point. Particularly the human predisposition to use the forest as a veil for any activity that is supposed to remain hidden.
Q: Why did you decide on documentary for your next project?
GP: A lot of the stories that we tackle in these documentary films are ones that I’d love to explore as a narrative feature. However that would also mean that I’d need to book off the next 250 years and not make anything else. And also stretching them into a longer more demanding narrative might not be the best thing for them. The SIDEWORLD format seemed best. In the way that it’s a documentary series of feature films that explore different horror legends under a unifying theme
Q: Have you had any creepy experiences in forests before?
GP: Not anything that would make it in a documentary like this, and nothing that I’d dare to confirm as extraordinary. Although I’ll be lying if I say we didn’t experience a particular feeling especially in some sites in Epping Forest in relation to the Suicide Pond story. But I’d attribute that to preconceived notions and auto-suggestion. I prefer it that way.
Q: There is something quite primordial about forests, is there something about returning to nature that has people questioning their humanity?
GP: I think nature’s role in our development has always been a catalyst for debates and existential crisis. And I think that’s only getting more relevant the more we progress. The tug of war between nature and technology is at the core of many questions of what it means to be human. I don’t know but I personally don’t think there is much future for us if we continue to see them as two things at odds with each other.
Q: Who were your influences on this project?
GP: I don’t know. I think it would have been a much easier question if I was taking about my narrative projects. Probably because I feel still very new to this. A lot of people would say Ken Burns or something when it comes to the format. But honestly I think it’s closer to trying to recreate the feeling I had as a kid going through storybooks full of horror fairytales and factual ones trying to solve the mysteries of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. It must be a combination of all that.
Q: What is your favourite horror film set in the woods/forest?
GP: Off the top of my head: The Blair Witch Project, Antichrist and Evil Dead 2. I know, probably weird given how different from each other they are. I guess that’s why they came to mind. They all capture what makes forests so intriguing and terrifying in extremely unique ways.
Q: Future plans?
GP: We’re in post-production of our second Sideworld documentary, which I’m very excited to share with everyone very soon. This time the theme is sea-related horror myths and legends. The depth and variety of stories and visuals is even greater I think. We’re also working on a couple of our next bigger narrative projects. We’ve been working with some great producers recently and I’m really excited to update everyone on my next narrative feature in the next few months. In the meantime we have more Sideworld filming to do, and while dealing with the elements can be challenging on those shoots, nothing beats experiencing those places first hand, so I always look forward to it.
Q: Any words for aspiring filmmaker?
GP: Probably I’d encourage aspiring filmmakers to ask themselves how they and everyone around them consume films these days and be up to date with the changes that are occurring in the industry, because there is a lot of opportunity in that. The filmmaking community has become a lot more social recently and there’s plenty of chances for filmmakers to share useful knowledge with each other. Read articles, listen to podcasts, go to festivals. And listen, I might not be able to answer every email, but if you buy me or another director a beer, we’d usually answer your questions. We do love to talk…a lot.
If you would like to check out Sideworld: Haunted Forests Of England the film can be found on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and if you’re from the US on TubiTV.
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