A parent’s biggest fear

The Flower People
‘The Flower People’ tells the story of a mother and son who have a chance encounter with a mysterious woman selling flowers. The son disappears the next day and becomes the victim of a cult kidnapping. Image | Courtesy of Charles A. Christman III

Philly filmmaker Charles A. Christman III has added to the city’s movie legacy. His most recent short film “The Flower People,” has captured 37 awards and more than 90 film festival selections, and is garnering worldwide attention throughout the industry. 

Filmed in Northeast Philadelphia, and featuring a local cast and crew, “The Flower People” tells the story of a mother and son who have a chance encounter with a mysterious woman selling flowers. The son disappears the next day and becomes the victim of a cult kidnapping.  

The Philadelphia-based production team included Roberto Lombardi, Zay Rodriguez, Wendell Raulston Jr., and Scott Perloff. Local actors Hannah Kathryn Young, Yasiris Alvarado and Xavier Thorton played the leading roles. 

PW recently caught up with Christman to talk about his career and latest film.

Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you first become interested in making films?  

My interest in filmmaking began in college. My English teacher at the Community College of Philadelphia, Dr. Jerry McDade, assigned a project where I had to write a 25-page paper on a topic of my choice. I originally wanted to write about vampire lore, but another student had already picked that topic. In talking with Dr. McDade, he asked if I liked movies, and the answer, of course, was “I love movies.” And just like that, I had my topic – vampires in cinema. I received an A-plus on the paper, and Dr. McDade asked if I would be interested in taking his film classes. I signed up for all three classes and enjoyed them so much that I went on to pursue film studies at Temple University.

Philly’s Charles A. Christman III has received critical acclaim for his recent short film, ‘The Flower People.’ Image | Courtesy of Charles A. Christman III

Talk a little about “The Flower People.” How did it come together and how can people see it?

“The Flower People” draws from what could be considered a parent’s biggest fear – the abduction of their child. It’s truly a horrific nightmare and a parent can’t find solace until they know what happened to their child. The film relies heavily on psychological aspects. I drew a lot of inspiration from the RKO Pictures of Val Lewton from the 1940s, especially “Cat People,” “The Seventh Victim” and “Curse of the Cat People.” Lewton’s philosophy was that in darkness, the audience will create their biggest fear in their own mind. The scariest thing is what you don’t see – the mind creates the monster.

Another influence was Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.” Not technically a thriller or horror film, but the real-life events that happened during the holocaust are true evil at its purest. I shot “The Flower People” in black and white, but wanted to add some color to the film. The scene in “Schindler’s List” with the girl in a red jacket gave me the inspiration to have all of the roses and the cult’s flower pins in red. This added another layer of beautiful dread that leaves the audience questioning themselves about the “flower people.”

The story for “The Flower People,” in one form or another, has been with me since high school. I took a class where we studied cults and the teacher doubled down on my fears when he told me that the people selling flowers on street corners were actually cult members. So, like any other artist, the only way I could extract my fear was to write a story about it. I wrote the short story back in 2015, but did not begin production until 2019. Postproduction was completed about a year later. The film premiered at the Venice Island Performing Arts Center right before the nationwide shutdown due to COVID-19.

“The Flower People” is still on the festival circuit so it’s currently unavailable for public viewing right now due to festival rules and restrictions. But after its festival run, I plan on showing it on a streaming platform like Amazon Prime.

Why do you think the film was so successful?

In addition to the amazing cast and crew, I credit the film’s success to the fact that it was released during a unique moment in history. Living through a global pandemic, no one had any idea what was going to happen at first. People were afraid and very isolated, and being alone is scary for people. They needed to channel their fears into something they know is not real, and movies are a perfect outlet. I also feel that the events of last year, whether it was the protests and riots or the presidential election, led to a horrible mentality of “us vs. them,” which is horror storytelling 101. People see the enemy and it’s the people who don’t look like them or do the things they do. The evil is the other tribe, and “The Flower People” gives you that.

What was the Philadelphia film scene like before the pandemic, and how do you think it will recover now that it appears the pandemic is easing, as are its restrictions?

The Philadelphia indie film scene before the pandemic was very much alive and flourishing. A lot of filmmakers in this area were making wonderful and unique films. I was proud to call myself a Philadelphia independent filmmaker. But once the pandemic hit, everything came to a halt. People weren’t making films anymore unless they were in the confines of their own house. 

But just like any Philadelphian, you can’t stop us from doing what we love. We are resilient and just built in a different way. I know plenty of independent filmmakers who are making movies now and have been following all of the guidelines set by the CDC. I am honored to call them colleagues. In the end, this is just another huge hurdle that we have to get back up from, but I know you’re going to see some amazing stories and films in the years to come.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Just be yourself. If you find something you love, follow your heart and do whatever it takes. I’m from the Holmesburg section of Philadelphia, where the arts weren’t pushed on to me. I always felt that movies or TV was something I’d be good at, but thought it was an impossible dream. Most kids went to college, learned a trade, went to work for the city or became another cautionary tale. Don’t let others dictate what you want to do. Find it and go for it. Yes, you’re going to fail, but failure is a part of the process. Don’t get discouraged or bogged down by it. When you fail, see it as an opportunity for growth and take steps forward to your goals. I think my father said it best, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”  

What’s ahead for you? Are you working on any new films?

I am just finishing up the last draft of a script for a new project. It’s another short horror film, called “Rathill.” This one is going to be a little less serious than “The Flower People,” paying homage to the slasher films of the 1980s. It will still have aspects of horror and thriller films from the ‘30s and ‘40s, but with a fun and bloody twist. Think of 1932’s “White Zombie” meets 1987’s “The Monster Squad.” We are just looking for investors to help with the financial aspect to begin production. But I can say with confidence that this film is going to be a blast to make and watch. Get your popcorn ready!

    • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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