History meets art in Calgary director’s debut Pick

Filmmaker Benjamin Hayden has no qualms with his decision to desert English literature in favour of the greener pastures of experimental film making.

“When Chaucer and English seemed way too dusty, I knew I needed a medium that I could actually touch and interact with,” says Hayden.

After spending a term as an English student at the U of C, Hayden transferred into the new Bachelor of Film Studies program that sees students splitting their time between the U of C and SAIT.

It was definitely the right choice for the young filmmaker as Hayden was awarded a place in this year’s CIFF Best of Alberta showcase for his short film Pick. Though the entry process was daunting, Hayden is extremely happy with the result.

“It was a little nerve-wracking to get into. I wanted to get into this film festival so badly because the film’s about Calgary and the Calgary International is the ultimate film fest where it could exhibit,” says Hayden. “It literarily involved me creating a standard definition rough cut with temp music that I submitted just to make the CIFF deadline, a month before I actually carried through with the real process of the film and getting it transferred to HD and getting actual music made.”

The film focuses on two characters played by Calgarian amateur actors Nick Ward and Carisa Hendrix. Hayden has placed them in the historical context of 1916 Calgary when the city was full of veterans returning from fighting on the front lines of the First World War. Animosity leads them to attack and destroy a boudoir rumoured to be owned by a German.

“A bunch of World War One soldiers who attended this boudoir had just returned from the war. Then it happened . . . smashing glass, setting fire to the windows and just wrecking the entire place,” says Hayden. “The city was put on mob alert by mayor M.C. Costello and there was an article in the Calgary Herald about it. It was that violence — that little moment in Calgary’s history that people don’t remember — but in 1916, 1,500 veteran soldiers going crazy would have been a pretty big thing.”

Though the film is a brief 11 minutes and has hardly any dialogue, Hayden focused on every element and detail to create the atmosphere and tension of the time from the beautiful cinematography and lighting, to the soundtrack that was made to order by local musician Findlay Sontag. Even the credits were etched by hand in 16mm film stock.

Pick was filmed in the basement of the original boudoir after Hayden secured permission from one of the co-owners. He paid particular attention to the development and appearance of the two main characters and how they interact with this environment.

“They are two ghostly entities who are trapped in a purgatorial existence who carry out the violence repeatedly and are making an attempt to escape that purgatory one day. They are starting to catch on and they want to get out.”

The film, with it’s decidedly Calgarian focus, is Hayden’s way of contributing to Canadian filmmaking. Though he’s aware the medium of experimental film may narrow his potential audience, he feels something must be done.

“Well, as it is now, Alberta needs an audience and it’s always needed an audience. The biggest thing in Western Canada is that people aren’t watching Western Canadian content,” says Hayden. “Maybe take a different approach and people will start paying attention — regardless of whether it’s traditional narrative that looks a little like Hollywood Dramatic storytelling or if it does fall in the experimental tradition in Canada.”

So get out there and appreciate what Calgary has to offer before people like Ben Hayden stop doing what they’re doing.

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