Benedict Campbell is a writer and director focused on short and feature length dramatic fiction. He is a member of The Bronx Filmmakers Collective, a recipient of the 2019 BRIO Award from the Bronx Council on the Arts and was a teaching artist at Ghetto Film School. His films have shown at festivals around the world including the Sundance Film Festival. The High Bridge is his latest film.
What inspired this film? How long did it take to write?
I’ve been working on The High Bridge for a few years and I’m inspired by the Bronx and the incredible communities within the borough. My friend was a teenage dad who stepped up to raise his kids here. I was struck by his story and he inspired the main character of Abel. I was working in Washington Heights when they reopened the bridge and it gave me a chance to walk back to the Bronx and see the connection between the two neighborhoods. I thought the bridge could be a metaphor for a child that links two families on opposite sides and I wanted to write a film set among both communities. I spent about two years writing the feature film. I included details from my friend’s story, his emotions, and anecdotes I collected. I spoke with academics specializing in fatherhood and family planning in person and on Skype. I talked to program coordinators that work with young fathers. There were vivid details that stuck with me (like a visit to a doctor’s office) and I adapted them to the character and narrative structure. The short film is based on the feature length script with the same characters. I shared both scripts with different writing and filmmaking groups like The Bronx Filmmakers Collective for feedback. I read the short with tenth graders when I was a teaching artist for two weeks at a Bronx high school. Both were revised several times. I felt it was important to share this story because I don’t think we’ve seen young black dads portrayed positively in movies.
Why was it important to cast a young father?
Once I landed on a story about a young dad, I dug into the harmful stereotypes and the impressive non-fiction work done on the subject. For example, Zun Lee has done amazing documentary work photographing dads in his series Father Figure. The narrative reinforced repeatedly is that black fathers are absent or uncaring. Visual stories change minds and I wanted to tell a real, positive story about a young dad. I wanted to see him confronting judgment, taking responsibility, caring for his daughter and upending this pervasive narrative. I worked with Aubrey Joseph (Abel) on an earlier film and he’s got this subtlety the camera can read. You aim to capture emotional complexity and you can see him processing multiple emotionson screen without speaking. Aubrey mentioned having friends in similar situations and I think he connected with Abel.
What was the most challenging part of putting this film together?
Getting from the page to the screen is always a challenge because things beyond your control bring the story to life but also get in the way. We worked closely with NYC Parks but there were restrictions on which days we could film. I wrote the scene in the park thinking of a nice day and that didn’t happen. The crew was huddled under a tarp waiting out the rain and we lost valuable time. On the bright side, grey skies meant even and consistently diffused light. When you don’t have tons of gear, it’s the best photographic conditions you can hope for.
How long did it take you to shoot and edit this film entirely?
Pre-production was three months. Shooting was 2.5 days and post-production was another three months. Needless to say, a lot goes into a nine minute film.
What inspired you to get into filmmaking? Is this your first film?
I was that photo kid in high school. I loved the dark room and I would be in there for hours before school, after school, and during lunch. When I picked up movie film, I saw all the tiny frames and realized it wasn’t that different. Initially I was only interested in the visual part and it would take a lot more learning to understand how much work has to go into a script and a story to make one that is worth telling with all those tiny pictures. Later on I was inspired by Ang Lee for his ability to seemingly tell any story and his remarkable humility when directors can have big egos. I’m lucky that The High Bridge isn’t my first short film and I’ve had the experience of making a few others. I do hope it will be my first feature-length film.
What do you hope people take away from this film?
I hope to give some people the chance to see a real depiction of their journey. I also want people to see a film that challenges misconceptions. In nine minutes, you’re getting a brief sense of who Abel is and where he is in his life. He’s concerned but not necessarily willing. In other words, he knows what he needs to do, he’s just in denial about it. The denial is consistent with processing in stages (denial, anger, guilt, fear and so on). It’s hard for him to process how and why he’s being treated a certain way. He’s embarrassed he doesn’t know the answers to basic questions but angry he’s being embarrassed and also mad at himself. He has the authority to be assertive without the experience to do it confidently. That inner conflict about what he can do and should do is playing out and hopefully you’re following his journey as he uses a tough moment to change. I also want people to see the bridge and realize that the Bronx is a beautiful setting for this story and others. The best thing a short film can do is leave you with a sense of wanting more. I’d like The High Bridge to be feature film and hopefully you’re left with a sense of wanting to see that.