Interview with Seamus Hanly, director of Irish fantasy, BenD (a film you probably haven’t heard of yet)

The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival is still a few months off. And while it is always a treat for the casual and hardcore cinephile, it is not the only way for Irish movie-lovers to slake their hunger for exciting new and undiscovered films.

Now entering its fourth year, the Dun Laoghaire Underground Film Festival takes place this week, from Thursday the 12th to Sunday the 15th. Showing largely limited or unreleased films, these hidden gems will play in the Pavilion Theatre and represent the efforts of independent film makers in Ireland. These cinematic creations are very often directed and produced outside of the Irish Film Board, with a limited budget, and tend to operate outside of the Irish film industry’s vision of ‘What makes an Irish film?’

One particular entry into this years festival, Seamus Hanly’s BenD, encapsulates this idea, taking ‘Irishness’ to strange new places.
A dark noir-ish fantasy, with elements of Dr. Who, Seamus insists that his film is Irish, but not traditionally Irish, and preferably viewed outside the realm of geography.

Many of his influences come from non-Irish sources, and the film certainly seems to have international appeal. As well as the Underground film festival, BenD is also playing this Tuesday, the 10th, in the Apostrophe Art Gallery, in Brooklyn, New York.  Bone-idle caught up with him recently to ask, just how do you make an ‘Irish’ film, how personal a journey BenD was for him and, of course, how video-games affected the production process.

Hello Seamus, thanks for talking with us here at Bone-idle!
No problem.
So, BenD is showing in the Dun Laoghaire Underground Film Festival. That must be exciting. Tell us about BenD, how would you describe it?
BenD is a super low-to-no budget dark fantasy film made in Dublin and tells the story of Ben (played by Colm Kearns) a twenty-something male who begins the film already in state of confusion and isolation. We learn that he entered this state after a strange car accident and, as the film progresses, we learn more about what is happening to him as he wanders the empty night in search of answers.
Along with Colm, the film also features performances by Aisling Lynch, Dave Duffy, Gareth Lyons, my brother Diarmaid Hanly and myself. What it lacks in budget and production value I think it makes up for with atmosphere and good pacing
What I find particularly interesting about BenD is the fact that it’s a fantasy film, a genre that is rarely seen in Ireland.  And when it is, it nearly always features leprechauns or other Irish mythical creatures. Were you purposely steering away from that?
I definitely wanted to make something different. Something that you didn’t typically see in an Irish film. I mean, I think EVERYONE should be doing that. But it’s not like I thought of something like The Leprechaun and said to myself, “Right, what’s the opposite of that?”
I do believe there are some Irish elements to it. There’s definitely some Christian influence to the tone of the film, although I don’t intend for the film to have any agenda with it… and I think there’s perhaps a hint of ‘The Third Policeman’ somewhere in there.
At the same time, I don’t think the film is necessarily set in Ireland.
(Editors note: Having seen the film on release, this writer can certainly vouch for an element of the Third Policeman, BenD is very surreal).

What other major influences affected the making of the film?
Any other influences I can think of would be from other films. There’s definitely inspiration from directors like John Carpenter and David Lynch. I think the films Near Dark and Donnie Darko definitely factor in there too.

Also, the whole no-budget production ethic of the whole project was influenced by stuff like Clerks, El Mariachi and Primer. There’s probably a whole tonne of other stuff I’m forgetting right now.

Are there no Irish films that had any influence?
To be honest, not really. It’s very much an American influenced film, as I reckon many of my film projects are.
So, is BenD an ‘Irish’ film then?…Are there any Irish markers in it at all?
It’s definitely an Irish film. I’d never deny that. It’s made almost entirely by Irish people, written and directed by an Irish person (Me), produced by myself and Tony Flynn, who’s also Irish, and it was filmed and edited in Ireland. If that don’t make it ‘Irish’, I don’t know what does!
I’m not sure if it has any cultural markers though, aside from perhaps the look of the locations… but I believe that if the yoke’s made by Irish people in Ireland, then it’s Irish and by that virtue there must be something in there that makes it different.
Also, Colm’s got his sexy Dublin accent in it!
So, this is a more modern Ireland then, rather than the traditional model?
Definitely! The story is told in at least some contemporary western town. I prefer to think of the time it’s set in as ambiguous but it’s no further back than about twenty years, tops.
There’s also a prominent scene that revolves around the LUAS, which is a very modern element. While I’m sure there are other background details that date the film specifically, I really just didn’t want to draw focus on when it’s particularly set, because I felt it didn’t matter that much. But like I said, it can’t be THAT far back.
That’s fair enough, there is certainly an element of timelessness fusing with the contemporary…..speaking of which, your main man, Colm Kearns, has been noted for describing BenD as a SNES noir…
Ah yes. A term I believe I once coined and have since been haunted by. I’m sure you’d like an explanation as to what it means…
Please!
Well, there’s definitely a Film Noir kind of feel to the film but there’s also a synthy soundtrack that accompanies it.
This is by no means an original thing to do but some years ago when I was first beginning to think seriously as a filmmaker, I became obsessed with films that had a very specific aesthetic. Ones that had really good 80s type scores (like The NeverEnding Story) but also had this engrossing dark atmosphere (like Near Dark). Basically films that are Blade Runner or are inspired by Blade Runner.
I’ve had a lot of influence, like many of our generation, from video game music and I think the sound of the Super Nintendo (or SNES) is one of the best sounding consoles of that era of cartridge games. I don’t know about most people, but I tend to pronounce SNES like “snezz”. Once, on the set of BenD, while I was rambling on and on about this kind of crap, like I usually do, I mentioned something like how I wanted BenD to be, not so much a neo-noir, but more of a SNES-noir (pronounced “snezz-nuarr”). Like, a film that just had a very specific feel to it.
Colm simply fell in love with the term, just from the sound of it alone and has been an advocate of it ever since. I still feel like I have yet to successfully make whatever a SNES-noir is but BenD is somewhere along the lines of one and I’m delighted that Colm feels it deserves the label. I might just be insane though.
Are there any SNES era games that would be a specific influence then?
That’s the part where I’m insane!
I can’t think of any Super Nintendo games that I grew up playing that are all that similar to this game-FILM! I mean Film! I do, however, tend to listen to a lot of video game music on its own, without playing the game. Anything that’s at all Gothic or eerie tends to just sound really great to me.
Are there any video game references in BenD?
There is an obscure quote from Final Fantasy VII thrown in there! I won’t say where. And there’s a video game within the film that briefly appears, with a short piece of music that’s heavily inspired by the intro music from Donkey Kong.
Is the music the DK Rap?
No, the music is not the DK rap. I never owned an N64 (in its day, I have one now).
I was referring to the very original Donkey Kong from days of Arcade past. I guess there could someday be a BenD rap….
Which Final Fantasy is the best?
Are you kidding me? It’s obviously VII! Although I’ve never actually beaten the others…
(Editor’s Note: This writer would have said IX, but whatever)
Well obviously, this is a very personal project. As your first feature length film, how does it feel now to have BenD playing in the 4th Dun Laoighaire Underground Film Festival?
Absolutely fantastic! It’s so good to get some validation for this film, and the fact that it’s local is all the more rewarding. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m hoping to check out many of the other films that’ll be showing.
Does the journey of Ben in BenD mirror your own then? One of self discovery and validation?
It does. BenD is inspired by something I was going through at the time that I wrote it. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious artist, I think that Ben and the character that I play in the film both reflect different sides of me that conflicted at the time.
In the film though, Ben encounters strange creatures and nightmarish threats from another world… but in reality all I did was sit at a computer, either typing or staring into space, and walked up and down the street at night listening to Devo.
And video game music!
Profound insights, and I’m sure that info will add an extra layer of enjoyment for those lucky enough to see it!
Here’s hoping

Just one more question before I let you go Seamus. Now that BenD is wrapped up and garnering attention…..what’s next?
An excellent question… BenD finished up around this time last year and since then, I’ve been doing quite a bit of work as an actor for other independent projects.
I’ve been in a few music videos and just finished work on another independent feature called The Veil, in which I play Freddie Hayes, a confused photographer with a forgotten past (written and directed by Stephen Horgan and produced by Victor McGowan). Colm will also be appearing in the film as well for a scene or two, I believe.
In the meantime, I’m working on a script for a second feature film, with plans to shoot it in the summer of next year. It too has a similarly low budget. I don’t want to say anymore about it for now, just in case it changes drastically, as these things do, or if it simply doesn’t come together. Though I’m really pushing to get it done! But for now, my workflow is pretty good and I’m hoping to just get involved with more and more stuff while also developing my own productions.
Excellent, looking forward to that. Seamus, thanks for talking to us!
No problem. This was a lot of fun
——-
BenD is playing in the Pavilion Theatre this Thursday, the 12th of September at 13:00.
Tickets are priced at €6.It is also available to buy on DVD from www.enlightenmentpictures.net, for less than €10.
Written by Stephen Hill

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