Arts Lifestyle Locally Made

Justice Film Collective Presents Whistle Down Wind

From Whistle Down Wind

By Emma Castleberry

Local filmmakers Julia Christgau and Andie Morgenlander of the Justice Film Collective are working on an independent feature film that highlights women and the queer community in Southern Appalachia. The film, Whistle Down Wind, is also being made with an ethical filmmaking framework at its core. “This framework is a set of best practice protocols that filmmakers can put in place to ensure a safe and healthy on-set environment for their cast and crew,” says Julia. “This, unfortunately, is a rare find on professional film sets and this framework is being created to shift this culture so that compassion comes first. It is the first of its kind.”

The film was first inspired by lyrics from the song Whistle Down the Wind by Tom Waits: “And the blue eyed girls and the red guitars and the naked river flows.” When she heard these lyrics, Julia saw an image in her mind of “a bunch of badass queer women at a swimming hole, playing in the water and basking in the sun,” she says. “Looking a little closer, up on a rock sat a couple: friends since childhood and secretly in love.” This reminded the filmmaker of an early relationship of her own, and left her wondering how things might have been different. “What would our lives have looked like if we had actually let ourselves fall in love with each other?” she says. Discussions about leaving a place to be who you really are, or staying in a place where you don’t feel like you belong, remain at the heart of Whistle Down Wind.

From Whistle Down Wind

The choice to film in Asheville was made partly because of budget limitations and convenience. “We very much relied upon our community and were entirely floored at how they came through, generously donating time and space,” says Julia. Despite some obstacles and access issues, there have been many moments of serendipity during filming. “I’m used to acting onstage and letting imagination set the scene, so I felt spoiled getting to play around in various environments in Western NC,” says Shawn Morgenlander, who is Andie’s sister and plays the lead role of Janie in Whistle Down Wind. “There were a lot of moments of magic and beauty to counterbalance the bitterness in Janie’s journey. Most of these come across on screen, but others informed our work in secret, like the romantic rainstorm that preceded the first scene, or the friendly neighborhood cat who checked in on me between takes of another, particularly emotional, one.”

The ethical filmmaking framework being used on the set of Whistle Down Wind acknowledges that the impact of cinema is two-fold: it can evoke change and healing and it can also cause harm and negative social impacts. “The ethical filmmaking framework was created with an intersectional lens to counter racism, ableism, trans/homophobia and misogyny,” says Andie. “In order to cultivate connection and healing, there also has to be an honesty about systemic oppression and the way these interlocking systems impact people every day. We have to be aware of our complex identities in these systems.”

Andie says Whistle Down Wind is the kind of life-affirming film she would’ve loved to see as a teenager. “It shows how much we lean on our chosen family, our best friends,” she says. “In the future, I see cinema portraying a zillion different experiences of being queer and trans in the South, so that we may all learn how to love ourselves and each other fully.”

To learn more or donate to the film, visit

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