Independent film: before leaving Maine, this filmmaker wants to make us “extremely uncomfortable”

Filmmaker Emily Bodley will release the deeply personal horror film “What Are Friends For?” in Damnationland as she leaves Maine. Photo by Jenna Joan

“It was fun. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I was pretending to do it.

And so began a promising film career in Maine. That’s according to Portland-based (for now) filmmaker Emily Bodley, who was just announced as one of the female directors helping to revive Maine’s institution of horror and dark fiction short film Damnationland, after its three-year hiatus caused by a pandemic.

“Being part of Damnationland has always been a goal of mine in Maine,” said Bodley, a North Carolina native who moved to Maine in 2017 when he was 18. But, with Bodley planning to return south later this year, the filmmaker initially thought a planned exodus would disqualify her.

However, Bodley said, Damnationland co-producer Mackenzie Bartlett told him that dropping a film at the festival premiere in October at the State Theater would be a good way to end the Maine part of his budding career.

“Mackenzie said that would be the biggest flex,” laughed Bodley. “She kind of stroked my ego there.”

And why not, because Bodley, a self-taught filmmaker and videographer, took a big swing right off the bat – and connected. Her very first short, suitably eerie and energetic ‘Empath’, was accepted at the prestigious Maine International Film Festival, with Bodley, still a teenager, seeing her fledgling effort screened in front of hundreds at the Waterville Opera House. His second short film, “Laurel Ave”, impressionistic and visually inventive, just won Bodley the Best Cinematography award at the Maine Film Association 72-Hour Winter Film Challenge. (Author’s note: I was a member of the jury and “Laurel Ave” is a visual knockout.)

And now Bodley has accepted Damnationland’s invitation and is gearing up to shoot “What Are Friends For?” Bodley said the film is about “a normal woman who begins to notice quite bizarre body changes, which gradually become more inexplicable and grotesque as she tries to reach out to friends who ignore her”. For Bodley, the film was inspired, unfortunately, by her experiences as a young foreigner in Maine.

“It’s a deeply personal concept for me,” said Bodley, who at 18 found herself suddenly living in the small town of Danforth, Washington County. “My ex-husband was from there, and ‘What are friends for?’ It’s about living in a different region, struggling with friendships and trying to build a village of reliable and supportive relationships.It’s inspired by the deep feeling of loneliness when friends are unreliable when you have them. Plus, as Bodley happily explains, severe body horror.

Citing directors like Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), Darren Arnofsky (“Black Swan”) and David Lynch as his main stylistic influences for the disturbing developments that beset his protagonist, Bodley promises viewers will feel the tension unique disturbing between long static shots and moving incidents that mark the work of these directors.

“I’m not drawn to the fast-paced, comedic editing style in horror,” Bodley said. “As a cameraman/director of photography, I prefer the anxiety and tension in the camerawork, the isolation of the characters in the wide-angle frame, looking at them from afar.”

It’s a style well-suited to the autobiographical nature of Bodley’s film, which she says “was inspired by the deep sense of loneliness that comes from having friends not there for you.” As she explained, “Now we’re just as accessible over the phone as ever, but it’s backfired in that no one is really accessible anymore. See those three dots in response to a text, then watch them disappear. Noting that she may not be able to attend her film’s premiere at Damnationland (she’s moving out this fall), Bodley admitted to some ambivalence. “This movie is extremely personal, something so mortifying and so satisfying. Honestly, it’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt.

Fortunately, Bodley, despite the sentiment expressed in his film’s title, has plenty of friends on board to help bring “What are friends for?” to life in time for the October showcase. Citing the screenplay of fellow North Carolinian Eric Robbins for expanding on his initial concept and the invaluable work of co-producer Catie Collier, Bodley is also counting on new friends, in the form of a crowdfunding campaign, to help raise the film’s projected $3,000 budget. As for the must-have fundraising site for creatives, Indiegogo, Bodley and Collier had already raised over $1,700 by August 18, with a Sunday deadline for donations.

Says Bodley, “It’s amazing that we’ve lifted more than half in a week. That said, I’m paying everything out of pocket now, which means I’m broke for the next month until I can pay myself back. Still, even with the film’s reasonable budget straining his wallet as an independent filmmaker, Bodley says it’s important to pay his cast and crew. “We are planning four days of production, with very long hours. It’s important as a leader to make people feel valued.

For Bodley, who will be joined in Damnationland this year by Maine filmmakers Bodhi Ouellette, Samantha Quirion, Ben Rooker, Amber Chilton and Ricardo Lorenzo, her cinematic journey has only just begun. “I see the value of film school, but personally I don’t do well in my heart at school. It hurts me in a way that makes me lose my passion for the art form. For the enthusiastic and knowledgeable movie buff Bodley, what worked best was just getting in there and getting things done. “I learned to delegate, manage time and not wear so many hats that you wear yourself out.”

As Bodley leaves Maine to continue her filmmaking journey, she’s excited to help Damnationland return to its roots as a showcase for directors looking to see their own dark, personal visions on the big screen. “I’ve noticed a trend towards comic horror or even the absence of horror in the past – mine won’t be that. It’s going to be a little gory, a little gory, a little horror I’m going to make everyone extremely uncomfortable.

I can not wait.

To learn more about Emily Bodley and “What are friends for?” check out the film’s Indiegogo page, where you can join the dozens of people who have already donated. And look for the big return of Damnationland around Halloween at the State Theater in Portland.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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