We Need To Talk About ‘Emily’
Director and AFTRS graduate Ben Mathews’ short film ‘Emily’, which grapples with the issue of teen suicide, has been nominated for the 2012 Student Oscars.
"When I was fifteen or sixteen, a good friend of mine who was a girl, had chosen to end her life," Ben Mathews recalls to FilmInk about the starting point for his short film, Emily, which has just been nominated for the Student Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film category. "I knew what kind of huge effect that had on her family, on her friends, even on the community at the time. So I was interested in exploring the idea even though it's been addressed before."
An AFTRS graduate director and currently a student in their screenwriting program, Mathews attributes the attention on the film to the story being told in an unconventional way. "I particularly wanted to explore the idea from the perspective of a parent," he explains. "I think often, rather unfairly, there's a stigma attached to the issue of suicide and to the parents in that kind of situation."
Working in the psychological-thriller genre - which was suggested by AFTRS tutor Samantha Lang, after the film was initially a drama - Mathews says he elevated an everyday situation to a heightened level, "playing with these fear-states that people experience. We even borrowed horror conventions in telling the story... You have this morally ambiguous protagonist and at the beginning of my film, you're not quite sure about the mother, you're not quite sure about the daughter. You're not really sure who is the threat and who is at threat in this situation."
While the prevention of suicide is a dark subject matter to explore, ironically Mathews attributes another reason to the film's success as being that "in some respects... it's quite a life-affirming film."
Hailing from an acting background, Mathews has spent the past decade refining his skills as an actor training in New York at the Atlanta Theatre Company at David Mamet's School. "I was lucky enough to work with people like David Mamet and William H. Macy and the writer/director Clark Gregg and have been mentored by some of these people.
"Having come from an acting school, which was founded by a playwright, story was always first and foremost the thing that we were taught to almost revere," Mathews says, shedding light on why, despite his success with Emily, he's spending the next year completing his AFTRS Diploma in Screenwriting.
Another space where writers are revered is the theatre world, with Mathews not unfamiliar with the stages of The Sydney Theatre Company. "I miss acting and I'd love to pick it up again but just right now, I don't really have the time," he says pragmatically. "I feel like acting will come back round when the time is right."
In the meantime, momentum is certainly revving up around Ben Mathews, who is also one of the creative team behind the Optus ONE80 winning Deadbeat Dads, and with Emily on the cusp of international glory.
The Academy will announce the winner of the Student Oscars in mid-May. The winner gains automatic eligibility to enter the Academy Awards later this year.