Supernatural doc intertwines witchcraft, feminism and self-discovery in the modern world

Three millennial witches embark on a journey of personal growth in Coven. Filmmaker Rama Rau talks empowering women and the making of her feature-length documentary.


Coven follows the real-life quests of Leilani, Andra and Laura, three modern-day witches who set out to explore the traditions, magic and rituals of witchcraft and how it has helped shape their identities.

Along the way, the trio travel to sacred places as far off as Salem, Stonehenge and Transylvania in search of enlightenment, community and healing.

Toronto-based writer-director Rama Rau says she was motivated to document their journeys by a passion for spotlighting the stories of strong female characters.

“Especially amongst younger women, there is a growing consciousness of [the link between] feminism and the way witches are seen, so I was interested in seeing how younger women interpreted power and how they interpreted going against the patriarchy,” she says. “My biggest goal as a female filmmaker was to empower these women and to see them come into their own power.”

Coven (2023)

As Rau explains, what started out as “just a thesis in my head” evolved into a three-year project that took her on “a wild and completely unexpected journey” into the depths of history, spirituality and the occult.

“I didn’t want to just make a film about supernatural stuff, I really wanted to see how much the people in the film would trust me and allow me into their lives,” she says. “I also wanted to see how much of the black magic side I could get because a lot of people kept telling me, ‘You can’t film this’ and ‘We won’t let you film that.’”

“As a woman and a woman of color, I always told people I originally come from India and so they knew I was kind of more open.”

Rau emphasizes that a lot of work had to take place before shooting could start to gain access to those she wanted to film. At the same time, she adds that her background and being a woman filmmaker helped her gain people’s trust.

“As a woman and a woman of color, I always told people I originally come from India and so they knew I was kind of more open. If we had gone in with a different agenda, they might have been more against us filming,” Rau says. “They’re very protective and they still face a lot of backlash from society, so it was a lot of work getting people to trust that I wasn’t going to make them look like fools.”

Coven (2023)

Rau’s film brings together a diverse group of subjects, identifying not only as witches, but also as LGBTQ+, BIPOC and more. Despite their differences, however, the director says they share some significant commonalities.

“They’re all searching for home in different ways, so it became about more than just witchcraft or feminism, which, of course, you could go deeper into, but a film is just so much more when you layer it to create meaning,” she says. “You’re making the film for many people and it has to appeal to them. The search for home or ‘Who am I?’, it’s those kinds of searches that make a person interesting as a character.”

“You can’t start a film just hoping everything will work out because that’s not the way it works. You have to have a sense of where you want the story to go.”

As a storyteller, Rau admits that the unplanned nature of non-fiction work contributes to what she describes as “the addictive power of documentary filmmaking.” At the same time, she notes that you can’t go into a project completely without direction.

“You can’t start a film just hoping everything will work out because that’s not the way it works. You have to have a sense of where you want the story to go,” she says. “Even if the film doesn’t go there, it’s okay, because sometimes when you’re traveling your map could take you somewhere else, but you have to have a map.”

Coven (2023)

Coven premiered at last year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and is currently streaming on CBC Gem. Looking back, Rau says the experience has made her less of a skeptic when it comes to witchcraft and has changed the perceptions of audiences who have seen the film.

“I want people who are on the margins of society to feel that they belong. That’s what this film is about,” she says. “It’s not just for women or men who practice witchcraft, it’s really for anyone who is just feeling lost. The time has come for a new spirituality and I’m hoping this film will encourage people to further explore that way.”


Watch Coven on CBC Gem here (registration required) or visit the film’s IMDB page here.