Director Ben Ciard of August preview feature HALFWAY chatted with festival director Eve Studnicka about the film, his creative process, and the experience of shooting in the Driftless Region. Click here to purchase tickets to the screening.
ES: You come from London – what inspired
the film’s Wisconsin setting, and what drew you to the Driftless Region
BC: Though born and raised in the UK, my mother is from a suburb of Milwaukee and our
family are spread across Southern Wisconsin. Halfway is actually set on my cousin Jim
Lepeska’s dairy farm.
Farms are so little understood by city dwelling people, a shift the world-over from rural
environments into urban. By taking my protagonist from a city to a farm in order to, in
essence, cleanse him, I wanted to show an American Dream story, one of social
movement as a man moves away from his past transgresses through physical hard work
in a new frontier.
ES: This is your first feature – can you talk about some of the creative goals you
had when you initially conceived this project?
BC: I’m very much drawn to rite of passage stories. I find true drama in looking through a
microscope at an individual’s life at certain stages of change and challenge. In this film I
wanted to take my certainly less than perfect protagonist and make his battle the
Past that, I really just wanted to get my vision delivered. Fortunately I can say that I’ve
achieved that as Halfway is exactly as I wanted it. I’ve never seen a film like it before but
I thought an audience would engage with this set of characters in this setting. It being my
first feature film does carry some pressure to it, but then so does each short film one
makes, hoping it’s the catalyst to their first feature.
ES: Your use of handheld camerawork and available lighting made the film feel
reminiscent of a documentary to me. My background is in docs, so a question
that was always on my radar is “what right do I have to tell the story of folks
from social groups that I don’t belong to?” As a white filmmaker, what
compelled you to tell a story this racially focused?
In Halfway the lead character and his best friend are walking the tightrope of probation
(the film opens with him leaving Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution). Statistic from
studies over the last decade vary, but roughly two out of three ex-prisoners will be
rearrested within three years of release, three out of four within five years of release.
These numbers are even more stark when race is brought into it. There is clearly a huge
problem with access to opportunities once in this system.
I’m a British, white, middle-class, privately-educated, straight man. Those combined
probably make me, demographically, the most privileged person on the planet. For me to
tell stories from personal experience and therefore authority, what would they be?
Just because someone isn’t directly affected by an issue doesn’t mean they can’t be angry
about it. In fact, I think it’s a moral obligation to use one’s privilege to create social
equilibrium. In this particular instance with regards to Halfway, whether I’m a black man
or not, I can still stand by my abhorrence that our broken system of justice inordinately
affects men of color. It’s my society too, and if I want it fairer, I can choose to stand on
ES: Tell me about the relationships you and your crew formed with local folks
from the areas in which you were shooting. How did they respond to the
BC: I’m sure you know already how welcoming and friendly your part of the world is and I
can tell you that our production was received just as you’d imagine; with open arms.
Whenever we had a problem, needed to source a piece of equipment, an animal, a vendor,
a meal and a bed, there was always someone raising their hand to help.
To name a few in Montfort specifically, Tower Junction fed us two to three meals a day,
hydrated us with Spotted Cow and hosted Quinton Aaron’s bowling skills in their
weeknight league. Grab A Cone, Bowden and Alexander and Cheers II (actually Preston)
kindly let us shoot in their premises. The Foley and Biddick families let us shoot and set
up production on their properties. In Mineral Point we shot a whole day at Betty’s Drive-
In. And of course the unwavering support of my whole family. To see the true scope of
local support one need only see the extensive “thanks” section in the film’s credits.
Though our film has a fantastic cast, it is in fact still a relatively small independent
production, so without that sort of local embrace, putting on a show like this simply
wouldn’t have been possible.
ES: How are you hoping the film will be received by an audience largely made up
of folks from the area in which it was shot?
BC: Mostly I wanted to make a film that felt authentic and truthful to my Lepeska family. I
wanted them be happy with the film and proud of their involvement, it being not only
mainly set in their home-town (Montfort) but even more specifically, on their land and in
Wider audience-wise, we played at the Julien Dubque International Film Festival a few
months ago where we had four very well attended screenings and won best film, so we
obviously hope the film continues to resonate with new viewers.
Join us on August 19 at 7:30pm for the screening of HALFWAY followed by a Q&A with Ben Caird.