Rare are those directors who, like Ned Benson, can call on such experienced actors as Jessica Chastain, James Mcavoy and Isabelle Huppert. when making their first feature film. In The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby the New York-based director tells the story of Eleanor and Conor, lovers whose romance is severely tested by an unhappy twist of fate. The film is in the running for the Caméra d’or.
Photo of the film © RR
How did the idea for the film come about?
It all began quite simply with a walk through Central Park. A few years ago I was out for a stroll one summer evening and the fireflies began to flare. I found the moment incredibly beautiful and very filmic. I already intended to write something about the complexity of love and relationships, and so I wrote scene which became the first scene in the film, based on that experience. And then everything just followed on from there. I shared my idea with my co-producer Cassandra Kulukundis and with Jessica Chastain, and through their collaboration expanded it into a two-part project about perspective and empathy. We worked on what became the shooting script and then put together - and this was no easy task - the various pieces so that we could at last start filming. This third film was born from that process, so that rather than focusing on disparate perspectives - His or Hers - it takes an omniscient view of Them as a couple.
Any special memory or anecdote from the shooting?
There were so many. It was such a special collaboration with the crew and cast, but one that sticks out is the night we were shooting the scene I'd based the film on in Tompkins Square Park. Eleanor and Conor (Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy) run into the park during one of their first nights together, and see fireflies, which become a symbol of their relationship. It's rare to see fireflies in Tompkins Square Park - even the Park Ranger who was supervising the shoot said so. We got into the park to set up the sequence and by coincidence fireflies were flaring everywhere. Thousands of them. It was magic. We had the amazing luck to schedule that scene on that night. To have had the moment that inspired this whole project so many years ago in Central Park and then to have this happen in Tompkins Square when you are essentially trying to recreate it, well... it was pretty mind-blowing. It still is.
Can you tell us about your next project?
I have two projects I'm working on and am not sure which will come first. One deals with identity construction and the American ideas of manifest destiny and dreams. It's set in the music world in Los Angeles and is about people and characters who go there to reinvent themselves - and what does to them whether they succeed or fail, or both. I already have a draft of that and see it pretty clearly, but I need to polish it. The other is based on a book and about a man's moral transformatIon. It explores class issues and the power of redemption through work.
Who are your influences in filmmaking?
All types. There's so much great cinema and the canon is so vast and international level. I have gone through so many phases and been influenced by so much. I first saw Kieslowski's Double Life of Veronique, then the Three Colours when I was a teenager, and those had a great impact on me. Robert Altman, when I saw The Player, my first year of high school, which brought me to his other work. Visconti's The Leopard was amazing.I saw that with my mother, who is Italian, and that was special. I love so many films and filmmakers that have played in or won prizes at Cannes. But I also love a good summer popcorn movie. It's a hard question. There are so many! I think the films and filmmakers that mean the most to me really depend on where I am in my life and how they articulate the things I don't know how to. They helped me understand myself.
Saturday 17th May / Debussy Theatre / 2:00pm - 10:00 pm
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