Skinwalkers, horror, and blessing yourself on set: An interview with Navajo filmmaker Kody Dayish

by Patty Templeton

When you break your neck and end up in a halo for six months, it gives you a lot of time to think about your life and career. Back in the summer of 2010, Kody Dayish had founded Kody Dayish Productions with his siblings, Kolette and Kolin, in Shiprock, New Mexico. It took the accident to fire up Dayish about filmmaking, rather than acting, a recovery process that also included screenwriting.

His first film, “The Beginning,” is a 12-minute short featuring an all-Navajo cast and production team. In it, an elderly Navajo man teaches traditions to his grandson through sacred song and prayer. “The Beginning” won Dayish the Emerging First Time Director Award at the 13th Red Nation Film Festival in November 2016.

These days, Dayish is wrapping up post-production on his first feature-length film, a thriller called “The Red Hogan” and DGO got to talk to him about it.

What is “The Red Hogan”? It’s a film that will focus on Navajo culture, the good and bad. Like witchcraft, the skinwalkers, and other types of spirits. I’m a really big fan of horror films. We are really excited about it.

Is it a horror film?I would say it is a thriller. It opens up with there being something very wrong with a kid. He’s the oldest of a sheep-herding family. His family is trying to figure out how to help him. When it comes down to it, they find out a skinwalker is involved and throughout the whole film you’re trying to figure out who the skinwalker is.

Who are your horror influences?Oh man, I really think that I got inspiration from James Wan who directed “Saw.” That dude’s films are so good. I like “The Conjuring” and I think he is my favorite director. The style of his films are a big inspiration. Him and Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director of “The Revenant.”

Skinwalkers aren’t often talked about. Do you think you’ll get any flack for opening up that side of Navajo culture? Definitely. It was a really hard challenge that I knew we would take on. It’s an absolute bad thing to hear or be around or to talk about skinwalkers. Especially if you strongly believe in Navajo tradition. We talked about it. We talked to the whole crew about it.

At first, when I would explain to our elders that were backing the film, they would say, “No, you can’t do that.” But as I explained how the story went, then they kind of saw the point of making this film.

It is going to be an awesome film. There is so much respect behind it. Especially from me because I know it is a bad thing. But you know, we researched a lot and took a lot of time aside to contemplate and everything is very accurate. There’s a bunch of misinterpretations about our Navajo culture. If you Google “skinwalker” the picture is way off. I hope this film will correct those misinterpretations. Another thing I bring up is that it is a catch-22. If we film too much of it people will get mad. If we film too little, they get mad. It is hard to please everybody all of the time. But the film, I am happy with it. I want the movie to be over and the audience to just sit there quiet for a minute like, “Whoa.”

Did anything spooky happen on set? Oh yes. Absolutely. There’s quite a bit that took place at night and to make this film as authentic as possible, the whole thing is based on true stories. We went to the actual, reported locations where events took place. There’d be these abandoned houses, or hogans, that we’d go to. My sister – I have to give it up to her on this film – she was the production manager. We’d be out in the middle of nowhere and Kolette would have to sit alone outside and make sound effects. When we were done and driving back home, she was like, “Dude, don’t make me do that again! I swear I heard something.”

The film, it’s borderline graphic sometimes. To the point where I even started thinking, “Oh my goodness, I better do some prayers,” ya know? So I would bless myself every time we did a dark scene.

What’s something you’re stoked about in the film?We even got Hank Williams III involved. It’s one of the things we haven’t publicized. We haven’t really shown much about it yet. It’s one of the things I’m most excited about.

Is he on the soundtrack or acting?You’ll have to wait for the details. It’s crazy.

When does “The Red Hogan” come out?2018. We are going to submit it to the 2018 Sundance film festival. We wanted to do it for 2017, but as time went on, we found things that needed re-doing or editing. After we submit it to Sundance in May of this year, we’ll post the full trailer online.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


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