Kiowa Winans stands in the garage of her West Highland home, shaking a lifeless child.
"This is our stuffed Quinn," she says, clutching the little-girl-sized doll. She's referring to Quinn Hunchar, the actress who, at the age of eight, played Emma in the cult film Ink. The movie was written and directed by Kiowa's husband, Jamin Winans. He stands next to Kiowa, grinning at the macabre Muppet in her hands. Their garage has become a mausoleum for costumes and props, all stacked neatly in boxes and bags like eerie, discarded memories.
"I sewed this myself, which you can tell from the super-high quality," Kiowa jokes. In addition to co-producing Ink and all the other movies made by the couple's Denver-based company, Double Edge Films, she handles such duties as art direction, sound design, costume design -- and crafting creepy props.
In Ink, that prop plays its role well. The blond, faceless doll served as a stunt double in a scene where Emma is kidnapped from her bed by a supernatural intruder who then leaps from a second-story landing while holding her. It's one of many striking images that helped make the modest yet ambitious film a bona fide viral phenomenon. By Kiowa's estimate, Ink has been watched -- either legitimately or through online piracy -- somewhere in the vicinity of five million times since its release in 2009. In Denver alone, it ran for eight straight weeks at the Starz (now the Sie) FilmCenter. Fans around the world still send photos of homemade costumes they've created or tattoos they've gotten in honor of Ink.
Not that everyone has been charmed by the movie's weirdness. "We were at a warehouse late one night after shooting Ink," Kiowa remembers. "We'd paid a guy to help us out. He didn't speak English. He saw Quinn leave with her mom, then he went outside to have a cigarette. A minute later I come out. I'm exhausted, and I'm trying to wrestle this doll back into the trash bag that I'd brought it in. This poor guy is smoking, and he looks at the doll and goes, 'Oh, la niña!' I was like, 'No, this isn't what it seems!' as I'm shoving her into a plastic bag."
Things that aren't what they seem are Kiowa and Jamin's specialty. The duo's three feature-length films -- 11:59 (released in 2005), Ink and The Frame, which opens October 17 at the Sie FilmCenter -- have one element in common: They're all set in the real world. But that world winds up being a far darker, stranger and more magical place than their characters -- or their viewers -- ever imagined.More »