UW-Stout grads create Hmong-language horror film
The short film created by a team with ties to UW-Stout has all the hallmarks of an atmospheric Hollywood horror flick: a clock moving backwards, an empty cornfield, a blurred figure standing in the snow, and other dreamlike – or perhaps nightmarish – images. One element sets it apart: The dialogue is in Hmong. Nou Chee Her and Xai Lao – who graduated from UW-Stout last month with master’s degrees in information and communications technologies – wrote and produced Ntxhov, which translates as Disturbed in English. While the 26-minute horror film was their semester project for a digital cinema studio class, Her and Lao still collaborated with their production outfit, Team Sandal, which has been together for more than six years and is composed of current and former UW-Stout students.
“We wanted to tell a paranormal story that would incorporate elements of the Hmong culture,” Her explained. “It isn’t an adaptation of stories we heard before but a take on an experience someone can possibly have.”
Team Sandal has created many other smaller film projects, including several short series. One series called Mind Versus demonstrates the team’s ability to add special effects to its films in a “battle of the minds” scenario. Another series, Limbo, features shorts with no dialogue and portrays a character as he experiences different paranormal occurrences. This is similar to a third series, Hmong Superstitions, in which the team puts a contemporary spin on folk beliefs; the most recent installment is a tale about walking home at night when feeling alone or depressed and how that makes the soul more susceptible to ghostly attacks. “Our team is a huge fan of horror and paranormal films,” Her said. “We grew up watching so many different scary movies, from the Scream series to Paranormal Activity and many paranormal television shows. It is a genre we are comfortable with, and that’s why we decided to do this genre for the movie.”
Ntxhov revolves around the character Xeng (played by UW-Stout student Sheenab Her), who is falling behind academically because of nightmares. One of Xeng’s professors, Dr. Anderson (Mitch Ogden, a real-life UW-Stout professor) gives him extra time to catch up on his assignments, but unfortunately for Xeng this can only happen after he overcomes his mysterious sleep issues. “What we want to do with the film is not necessarily scare the audience, but explain the source of Xeng’s struggles,” Her explained. “It is essentially about understanding one’s fear and the source of it.” The film’s success was largely due to the collaboration between Team Sandal and the Hmong Stout Student Organization, which helped the filmmakers find their cast. This also helped non-native speakers to better learn and practice Hmong dialogue.
The team could have made the film in English, but instead chose Hmong with English subtitles hoping to add more to the film overall and believing that the language barrier adds to the foreign elements in the story. The film debuted May 17 at the Qhia Dab Neeg Film Festival in St. Paul. The team was humbled by its acceptance to the multiple-day festival for Hmong filmmakers. When asked about entering other festivals Her responded with a definitive yes: “We submitted it to another festival and plan on submitting it to a few more,” he said. “Our plan is to submit it to as many as possible as long as it fits the parameters of the competition.”
As Team Sandal continues to grow, its endeavors become larger: The group has now delved into the world of music video production, amassing more than 30,000 views on several videos. Their productions – including a trailer for Ntxhov – can be seen on their YouTube page: www.youtube.com/user/teamsandal.