Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #35: Mitchell Altieri Directs a Congregation of Outcasts in American Gothic ‘Holy Ghost People’

Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #35: Mitchell Altieri Directs a Congregation of Outcasts in American Gothic 'Holy Ghost People'

Usually known as one half of horror duo The Butcher Brothers (along with filmmaker Phil Flores), Mitchell Altieri comes to Austin with his new slow burning drama “Holy Ghost People,” set among the snake handling churches of the Appalachian Mountains.

What it’s about: “Holy Ghost People” is about absolute faith — the strength it can bring and the evil it can inspire.

About the filmmaker:
I started film-making at a young age. I was inspired by offbeat
films like OVER THE EDGE, THE WANDERERS and anything David Lynch.

This is my first venture outside the horror genre in a handful of years.
I didn’t start in horror but always loved dark stories. After shooting
my last film “The Thompsons” in the UK, I wanted to get back to my roots
and tell a gritty, American tale. “Holy Ghost People”was that story I
wanted to tell. It plays like an old Southern Gothic novel.

What else do you want audiences to know about your film? In our story, Brother Billy leads a
congregation of misfits and outcasts who take the Bible word for word,
which includes handling deadly rattlesnakes. Billy maintains his power
and strength through his Church of One Accord, demanding total
allegiance from his followers. Along comes Charlotte, our young heroine
who is on a desperate search for her missing sister. She brings with her
Wayne, an ex-Marine and struggling alcoholic, and together they enter
the strange world of Billy’s church. Their search for the truth sends
them back into their own pasts, as they confront their own sins and
discover the seductive and very real power of absolute faith… the
peace it brings… and the horrible violence it can inspire.

We shot on location outside of Cookeville, TN.  It was an amazing
experience set in a beautiful location.  The cast and crew all stayed
together in cabins which lined a large lake. Some of us took canoes to
dinner every night.  We cast our 60-person congregation locally, which
included people with experience in snake-handling churches.  As for the
snakes, we had a professional snake-wrangler with over twenty snakes on
hand.  They slept in large coolers in a cabin of their own. The service
scenes with the snakes were always just on the edge of being out of
control.  Our cast, musicians, and congregation of extras came prepared
and amped up – they really went for it.

What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? We all know that everything on an indie film project is
basically a challenge; weather, location, schedules… but for this
project it was the same question asked over and over again. Cast, Crew,
Extras, Producers — they all asked that one question at one point; “Are
there really going to be real-live snakes on set?”

The answer — YES. And a whole lot them. People are scared of snakes.
I’m scared of snakes. But once the cameras rolled and people got into
the wild services, we almost forgot our fears and we danced with the

What would you like SXSW audiences to come away with after seeing your film? I’d want our audience to walk out feeling they’ve witnessed a
truly unique and rich film that speaks to their gut but also their head.
A film that isn’t easy to pin down. That haunts your thoughts for a
while after it’s over.

What do you have in the works? I’m currently in post on my new feature film, RAISED BY WOLVES.
A thriller about Native American skaters who find themselves stranded
at an abandon house out on the rez, in the middle of nowhere. The kids
start to turn on each other and repeating the gruesome history of the

Indiewire invited SXSW directors to tell us about their films,
including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re
doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.

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