First the Coen Brothers, then the Wachowski Sisters … now the Also Sisters

Mar 10, 2024, 10:34 PM | Updated: 10:43 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – First there were the Coen Brothers, then the Wachowski Sisters.  Now, at the University of Utah, there’s the Also Sisters, who are taking film students places they probably never expected — namely, into a stairwell.

Assistant professors Miriam and Sonia Albert-Sobrino are two of a kind.  With matching boots, glasses and tattoos (from “The Eye” by Spanish surrealist Salvadore Dali, which was incorporated into the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”) the identical twins are, at first, difficult to tell apart.

“Yeah, we make it harder on purpose,” Miriam Albert-Sobrino said.

The sisters said growing up, their teachers and a school psychologist wanted to separate them into separate classrooms, but their mother, because she had a rough childhood, lobbied to keep them together.

“You know, we could do whatever we wanted, but we needed to be close, you know, close friends, sisters, and help each other,” Sonia Albert-Sobrino said. “So they said, ‘You can do whatever you can. You can fly the world around. but you have to go together.’”

The sisters became horror movie fans.  They liked the thrill of being scared. “You’re at a safe place at home. Nothing’s gonna happen to you, yet you can empathize with the protagonist of the film and think, ‘Oh my God this could happen to me,’” Sonia Albert-Sobrino said.

“Getting that adrenaline spike in your body when you’re scared, yeah,” Miriam Albert-Sobrino said.

They dreamed of making their own films, but at first listened to the voice of pragmatism.

A scene from a film called “Face Not Recognized,” created by the Also Sisters. (The Also Sisters)

“Sonia would always say, ‘No, but you gotta be the daughter of (Steven) Spielberg,’” Miriam Albert-Sobrino said.

“The son,” Sonia Albert-Sobrino interjected.

“She would be like, ‘You gotta be the son of Spielberg.’ So that’s out of the question. You cannot do that,” Miriam Albert-Sobrino said.

They became nurses.

But when a film school opened in their hometown, they both enrolled.

Together, with Sonia Albert-Sobrino behind the camera and Miriam Albert-Sobrino lighting the scenes, they began shooting horror and experimental movies.

“We call ourselves horror filmmakers but we use experimental methods to scare the audience or to keep them engaged,” Sonia Albert-Sobrino said.

The sisters, at first, billed themselves as “S&M” until they realized that wouldn’t play well.  So they took the first two letters of their two last names, “Al” from Albert and “So” from Sobrino, to spell “Also,” as in “You’re filmmakers, but you’re Also Sisters.”

In 2012, lured by the Sundance Film Festival and Life Elevated Utah tourism commercials, they came to the University of Utah to further their education. They later joined the faculty of the university’s growing Department of Film and Media Arts to teach hands-on production classes.

The number of film students has doubled in the past 15 years to about 700, according to Film and Media Arts Chairman Andrew Nelson.  The department, housed in the old fine arts museum building, has plans to upgrade the theater and install an LED wall in a studio so students can shoot films with virtual sets.

“There was a lot of growth and there was a lot of space for us to explore,” Sonia Albert-Sobrino said. “How can we bring the collaborative nature that you find on set so easily on the classroom?”

This semester their students are in production on a full-length horror thriller, “The Stairwell,” shot primarily in a stairwell at the neighboring Art Department.

The film was inspired by a crack in the cement in the stairwell.

“Many nights when you are going to the studio or somewhere else, we walk down the stairs and it’s super creepy, especially at night,” Sonia Albert-Sobrino said.

“We (noticed) the crack. And we thought, ‘What if this crack was to be alive?’” Miriam Albert-Sobrino said.

Behind the scenes on the set of “The Stairwell.” (Peter Rosen, KSL TV)

The sisters are directing and the class crews the production. Stas Kovalev is the first assistant director.

“I’m a little nervous,” he said, on the first day of filming. “But we should be good to go.”

Sonia Albert-Sobrino admitted it was hard to give up her position behind the camera so students could shoot but she made up for it, she said, by micromanaging.  Her sister gave her a consoling pat on the shoulder.

With time and the sisters’ different watchbands, Kovalev said he has learned to tell the two teachers apart. One sister’s voice, he said, is pitched slightly lower.

But the energy and enthusiasm they display are virtually identical.

“They spread this energy to the crew,” Kovalev said, “which helps us a lot.”

First Assistant on the film production of “The Stairwell,” directed by the Also Sisters. (Peter Rosen, KSL TV)

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First the Coen Brothers, then the Wachowski Sisters … now the Also Sisters