BenD, the first feature-length film from Dublin-based writer and director Seamus Hanly, will be screening at the Underground Film Festival in Dun Laoghaire on Thursday, 12th of September. Also co-starring in the film as a mysterious time-traveller, Stacy Grouden caught up with Seamus to find out more about the film.
So tell me about BenD – is it ‘Bend’ or ‘Ben D’?
In my mind it’s bend. It wasn’t until about halfway through filming that people started calling it Ben-D and then after I finished it and showed it around a little bit, that happened a lot more. It is an ambiguous title, the protagonist is named Ben Dexter, and it’s about his life taking a bend, so I guess it could be Bend or Ben-D.
Can you outline the story of BenD?
BenD is about a man called Ben Dexter, played by Colm Kearns, who has been living in his deceased parents’ home for a while, sort of squatting there. He’s already in a strange state of dissociativeness, he’s had some sort of accident and feels alienated from reality. He’s overwhelmingly fatigued during the day, but at night he starts to meet strange people and piece together exactly what’s going on around him.
What inspired you to write BenD?
After my first year of college – I was studying film – I felt nothing I was doing there was going in quite the direction I wanted. I knew I wanted to make feature films and to write something ‘odd.’ Also it was the summer, so it comes from living at home, and not really having much to do, and becoming nocturnal, then suddenly realising from a photographic standpoint how nice the streetlights were on my road… I know I had some ideas for the characters for a little while that all came together in BenD, like the man with the fedora who appears to sort of guide Ben through it all…
You play the character with the fedora, did you always intend to act in the film as well?
Yes, I either would have played him or the main character I figured it would be too self-indulgent to play Ben! I remember talking about it but not really able to remember when I decided what role I would take. I suppose when I cast Colm as Ben things fell into place.
Tell me about casting your lead, Colm Kearns, as Ben.
Colm had appeared in a short film called The Chance of Striking Gold by Eoghan McQuinn. I remember talking to Aisling Lynch, who is also in BenD and was a friend of Colm’s, and saying ‘what about Colm? What do you think he’d be like in BenD?’ I got in touch with him and things just started to happen. He’s really excellent, he brings out the humour in the role and he doesn’t over-sentimentalise the emotional side, although the character doesn’t respond that much. I think that Ben, unlike Colm – very much unlike Colm! – is well-meaning, but he’s not the quickest thinker, but with Colm you can tell when there’s something going on.
I would definitely like to work with him again and to give him a more energetic role that would suit his own humour. The more I filmed this, the more I realised how very unlike the character Colm is, but he was excellent.
Tell me about how you went about getting the film made, on quite a low budget, in Dublin, mostly at night!
I originally wanted to film this in the summer of 2009, but it didn’t come together. It wasn’t until after I’d graduated from college that I decided I had to make something at that point. I came across the script again and thought, I really like this, I’ll try and get this off the ground again. I guess I knew how I wanted to film it, I had pretty reasonable expectations about what I could do with what I had. Even though it’s quite low-budget it actually felt more like I was taking a step up from making something quickly with a camcorder and a few friends.
Also, certain things that people tend to avoid when filmmaking, I tend to really like, like a slightly grainy look. I wanted this movie to have a kind of a rawness about it, you feel like you’re discovering something at the same time as the characters. I shot it in kind of an old-fashioned way, a couple of odd exposures and things like that, which excited me, to make the film look and feel like it was older.
What inspires that visual aesthetic in your work?
The jumping off point was the streetlights, I wanted to try and evoke what comes to my mind when I see the streetlights, which is what inspired me to shoot at night. I think there are a couple of obvious influences, definitely David Lynch, John Carpenter, and also Kathryn Bigelow’s movie Near Dark is a huge influence. I watched that film and the Lance Henriksen character really stood out, he’s got this long hair and these goggles, and so I knew I wanted the film to have that kind of look.
And would they have similarly influenced the narrative style of BenD? Are there other influences in the film on its storytelling and narrative style?
Yes, it’s definitely drawing from David Lynch, John Carpenter, Near Dark. Structurally as well, I remember thinking it was similar to The Third Man – Ben is like Holly Martins, trying to uncover what’s going on around him, and each new person he meets moves things forward, starting with my character. He’s of the same ilk as Ben, but just from a different century – he could be a medieval priest, he could be from the ’40s, I liked that it was kind of ambiguous where he was from, and that it was a similarly odd character interacting with Ben.
It’s a little like Doctor Who in that way, too…
Yes, I’d just started watching Doctor Who the year before so there’s definitely a huge Doctor Who vibe to it. A friend’s dad watched BenD and called it ‘Beckett’s Doctor Who’, which was great to hear.
One of the people Ben meets in the film is the mysterious Elizabeth, played by Aisling Lynch, but she’s not a straightforward love interest -was it a conscious decision to downplay the romantic element in the film?
Writing the script, it made sense that there would be a femme fatale character, but it just didn’t naturally develop that way and would have gone against the tone of the film, I think. BenD is kind of about what happens when nothing happens which is about what happens when nothing happens. Colm and I talked a lot about how Ben is seeking catharsis in this film, and how his cathartic moment is ultimately accepting the lack of catharsis.
Have you seen the programme for the Underground Festival? What are you looking forward to seeing?
I’m hoping to see some of the short films – Patrick Thompson’s film Isolation; Megan Woods’ The Beauty of Ballybrack; Horror School Reunion, and Float On, which is on the Saturday… The feature films all look really interesting, too, like Demon and Dark by Noon… I’m kind of intimidated but also proud that there are all these great films on before BenD, which I’ve described before as ‘a no-budget fantasy,’ so hoping it stands up. It’s a good line-up.
What have you been up to since wrapping BenD?
I’ve actually been acting quite a bit. It’s been almost a year since we wrapped BenD and I’ve met a few people through screenings of the film and been working on other projects of theirs. I’ve been in a few music videos, I have a small part in the upcoming Taryn Barker: Demon Hunter by Zoe Kavanagh, and I’ve just wrapped a film being released by Constant Motion Pictures called The Veil, directed by Stephen Horgan. Finally, I’m getting around to working on the follow-up to BenD, hoping to shoot that next summer. I really would encourage people wanting to work in film in Ireland just to make something, it convey s that you’re serious about what you’re doing and you’ll meet people in the industry that way as well.
BenD, produced by Seamus Hanly and Tony Flynn, is showing as part of the 4th Underground Cinema Film Festival on Thursday, the 12th of September at 1pm. More information about the film can be found at www.enlightenmentpictures.net and about the festival at www.undergroundcinema-