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Interview with director Simone Bennett


Simone Bennett (1978, Netherlands) is a visual-artist, who works with Film and Photography. Bennett studied Audio-Visual Art at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, where she now works as a teacher next to her art practice. Our connections to each other and to the world around us is at the heart of Bennett’s films. The combination of fiction and documentary is essential in her work. Bennett incorporates elements of hope and beauty in her often-dark narrative, constantly searching for the light of humanity in every situation. Most of Bennett’s films are in distribution of the Eye film museum and her work has been shown internationally.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

Since I was a child, I always wanted to be a filmmaker. Both my parents were artists, and we used to watch a lot of films. The video shop was my hang-out. A key moment for me was when I realized I could combine art with film. There was an exhibition at the Tate about cinema in combination with art and that made so much sense to me.  They showed video works by Tacita Dean, Matthew Barney and David Lynch, who really inspired me to become a filmmaker and artist.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Anyone can become a filmmaker. You just need a good story or idea and a group of friends who want to help. When I was a teenager, we had to borrow cameras to make films, but now everyone has a camera on their phone. The opportunity to make a great film lies in your pocket. This has made filmmaking so much more accessible to everyone. It’s great to go to a film institute or art academy because it’s a place where you can develop your personal style learn skills and meet like-minded people to work with; but it’s not essential to becoming a successful filmmaker at all.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

For me starting is the easy part; a good idea comes with a rush of energy. The hardest part is to keep going especially after you have had some rejections from trying to finance a film. Funding for the film or plans you have been working on for a long time sometimes just don’t work out during the process. Keeping in mind what filmmaker Amma Assante says I quote; Don’t take No as a full stop, treat it like a comma. For me what really helps to keep motivated during a longer filmmaking process is doing shorter more spontaneous art projects alongside it. I make photographs and draw when trying to get a longer film off the ground. It’s important just to keep your creativity sharp and busy by doing bigger and smaller projects side by side. Both become equally important for your art practice in the end.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Gentle Wildfire is shot in Portugal and was inspired by the experience of my Portuguese husband who, after the 2017 wildfires in Leiria that burnt the forest, he had known as a youth, felt as though he was losing parts of his own memory and past. When making the film we researched wildfires a lot and through our research got in contact withmany scientists, firefighters and people who lived close to the wildfire. Elements of that research are incorporated in the script. Combining the personal stories of loss with research of the science behind wildfires was an eye-opener for me and had a positive outcome on the films story. I lost my father during the making of Gentle Wildfire and so the film became an even more personal story about loss but also about new growth for me.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

We worked with a professional trained actor who acted alongside local people from the village where the wildfire of 2017 took place. For me as a director I had to use different directing techniques to work with the cast. The actor needed to stay in character while the people around him needed to be themselves so that we kept the quality of documentary next to fiction. We storyboarded the whole film and it remarkably stayed really close to the storyboard even though there were many elements that were based on what we would discover on set. We worked with a very small crew of only four people, not only due to finances but also because I like to keep an intimacy and focus on set to make the film cohesive and stick very close to my vision for the story.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

The hardest artistic choice I had to make with the film, Gentle Wildfire, was regarding the scenes that were to be intercut with a performance scene I shot in the Netherlands. I shot the Dutch Fireman Choir performing a composition based on the fire triangle (Heat, Fuel and Oxygen) and it was beautiful. However, during the edit we found that these scenes just didn’t fit the film. It took the viewer too much out of the story. I ended up making a film-installation with these fireman scenes instead, and I used some of the sounds of their performance in the film whichin the end worked even better.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

What was great is that I worked with my friends on this film. The DP is a close friend of mine, Lonneke Worm, with whom I have been making films with since we were 14. The people in the film are all friends and family. So, our relationships were already pretty strong. I also met some new people along the way. This was the first time I worked with my new producer Interact and I loved working with them. They understood my vision for the film from the start and trusted in my story and ability to make this film on a low budget. I’m excited to make more films together.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

Yes and no. Your worry as a filmmaker is that you communicate your idea well, which means you always think about the viewer in a way. But you also need to tell your story your own way and take the audience along on that ride, which means you don’t need to explain everything. There is a tremendous quality in making films that play partly on screen and partly in the minds of the viewer in a way that opens the viewers own personal story. I don’t like films that tell me what they are; as a viewer I wantto discover the story together with the filmmaker and make it my own.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

They are necessary and great in many ways; as they bring your film to an audience. And films need to be seen. I love the festival crowd, meeting people from different countries and talking about art and film with audiences and the people who make the festivals. I made a film about how fear and paranoia can spread as a virus in society, and I had so many great conversations with audiences about how people had similar experiences with this topic in different cultures. This was pre-Covid 19 of course, when you could still travel for film festivals. The only issue I have with the current film festival climate is that they charge money to send in your film for a possible screening. I know film festivals have a hard time financially but so do filmmakers and I don’t think film festivals should build their finance model in this way. It’s like band paying for a gig at a festival, so that they get heard. No, the funding I use for the film should go into the film, the film festivals should finance themselves from ticket sales and their own funding not from the filmmakers who make the content. When I started making shorts 19 years agothis was not the case at all, but now it’s the norm unfortunately. But like I said it’s how the system works, so to answer your question to get the most out of festivals is to build good relationship with good festivals and get in contact with the people running them.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

Original and fresh is the only way to be, but there is always room to work in a classic style and still be original and fresh.