In addition to having an impressive academic background as well as a PhD in Film Theory from Trinity College Dublin, Neasa Hardiman is an incredibly talented director and writer who has worked in television and film. Hardiman’s craftmanship can be found in documentaries such as Ireland’s Teenage Criminals and Imagining Ulysses. She has also directed episodes for Totally Frank, Tracy Breaker Returns, Z: The Beginning of Everything, and Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Hardiman’s recent project was writing and directing the science fiction film Sea Fever. Wanting to learn more about her career and Sea Fever, I was able to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Gunpowder & Sky’s sci-fi label DUST will host the LIVE STREAM PREMIERE of SEA FEVER on Thursday, April 9th, 5:00pmPT/8:00pmET at https://seafever.watchdust.com. Fans can tune in to watch the official film premiere together, post their comments in a chatroom, and have their questions answered by the cast and crew via a moderated Q&A following the credits. This is THE FIRST-EVER live stream premiere of a feature film.
The event will kick-off the release of SEA FEVER On Demand and Digital release April 10th. Pre-order the film here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/sea-fever-2019/id1499131902?ls=1
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Neasa Hardiman: I was a pretty eclectic reader growing up. As a kid I loved Asimov and Ursula LeGuin, CS Lewis, and Tolkien. In my teens, I loved big, epic nineteenth-century novels – I read a lot of Tolstoy and Zola and Balzac. I guess I was consistently drawn to stories with rich atmosphere and a particular kind of tone – stories where emotional authenticity is framed by a heightened reality.
Yanes: Ireland has incredibly modern cities with cutting edge technology, smaller towns that are deeply historic, and uniquely beautiful landscapes. How do you think the variety of landscapes in Ireland shaped how you approach stories?
Hardiman: That’s a great question! Ireland has a rich mythological tradition that’s very alive in the culture. It’s a pretty gothic tradition; there’s a lot of focus on veils-between-worlds, lots of stories of ghosts and changelings and other-worldly beings who live alongside us. The grand, mythic story cycles favour flawed heroes whose deeds end in ironic tragedy. But at the same time, you’re right that Ireland is quite a young country, with a lot of technological innovation happening.
So, we’re a combination of quite forward-looking, while also being awash in this gothic-inflected narrative tradition. As a result (and this is just a personal perspective), when you look at great Irish storytellers, maybe you don’t find that much ‘dirty realism’. You find great modernists, like Beckett and Joyce, or more recently Eimear McBride. You find great gothic innovators, like Sheridan LeFanu and Bram Stoker. And you find the heightened, dream-reality of film makers like Neil Jordan and Lenny Abrahamson. I think my own work, where I try to place grounded, complex characters in a heightened, metaphorical world, is informed by what I see as those cultural roots.
Yanes: As a fellow academic I am envious of how you’ve pivoted from an academic career to a non-academic career. Did you encounter any obstacles during this shift? Do you have any suggestions for those of us trying to flee academia?
Hardiman: I think a good grounding in film theory and analysis is invaluable! Focusing on the ‘why’ of your film making, rather than just focusing on the (complicated and challenging) ‘how’ of getting it done, makes the finished film more considered, more nuanced, more compelling. My advice is: bring your brilliant academic muscle with you into the world of film production! Your skills in analysis will make for better movies!
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a professional career as a creative? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Hardiman: I was always passionate about visual art and creative writing. I was also always deeply interested in physics. I had to make a hard choice after school about which way to go. I chose art, on the basis that a creative career would allow me to investigate all the science I wanted, while the converse was not necessarily true.
Yanes: Your recent film is Sea Fever. What was the inspiration for this story? Given Ireland’s rich history of folklore and mythology connected to the sea, were there stories you wanted to pull from?
Hardiman: The film blends a famous Irish myth about Niamh Cinn Óir, daughter of sea god Manannán Mac Lír, with the actions of a contemporary, grounded young hero. In combining those two figures, I want to combine the rigours of ethical scientific thinking with the magic of the mythical hero.
Yanes: Set on a ship, Sea Fever at times feels like it could easily be on a theater stage. Was this a happy accident or did you always intend on having a sense of performative intimacy in Sea Fever?
Hardiman: I really wanted to reflect the claustrophobic feel of the trawler. Trawler crews are very good at managing their relationships, because they’re bunched up together for weeks on end, unable to get away from one another. That enforced intimacy is very real. If you’re like Siobhán, and not good with other people, it’s a difficult place to be. Now you’ve said that, we should make a stage version of Sea Feve…
Yanes: The creature in Sea Fever felt like an amazing combination of the aliens from John Carpenter’s The Thing and James Cameron’s The Abyss. How did you go about shaping this creature?
Hardiman: All the animal’s qualities are based on real marine phenomena. The animal in the story is an amalgam of many different animals’ attributes. I wanted our animal to be beautiful, mesmerizing, but at a scale that made it scary. It’s based on the morphology of cnidaria, or jellyfish. It’s bioluminescent, like a lot of deep-sea life. I wanted it to feel unknowable, with a black hole at the centre, so there was nothing we could recognize as a ‘face’. I wanted its tendrils to be like a jellyfish: not muscular and prehensile like a squid, but thin, elegant, like neural fibres reaching out to explore the world. And when you see it from the top, I wanted it to look a little bit like the pupil and iris of a human eye.
Yanes: Every character in Sea Fever felt authentic. What steps did you take to make these characters feel well-rounded?
Hardiman: I’m glad it felt that way! I really wanted everyone in the story to have a rich store of life experiences that inflect how they respond. Particularly when there’s a sci-fi element in the story, it’s crucial that every character feels grounded and truthful in their responses to that element. I’m also not a fan of villains in film; it’s more interesting when everyone has their reasons, when everyone’s struggling to do their best. The boat’s owners take an ecological risk because they’ve been pushed to the edge economically: they’re trying to protect and provide for their crew. The engineer is a Syrian refugee, he’s struggling to set down new roots with his wife and baby. The ship’s cook is anxious and jumpy because her last boat sank, her husband was permanently disabled and she nearly drowned. Even if it’s not made explicit in the film, the actors embody those experiences and use them to inform how their character might behave.
Yanes: When people finish watching Sea Fever what do you hope they take from the experience?
Hardiman: I don’t want to tell anyone what to think. But I’d like people to feel for the protagonist’s courage. I’d like people to ask questions about how science and ethics might inform our behaviour toward our neighbours, our community and our fragile planet.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Hardiman: I’m working on another grounded sci-fi thriller, which I’m really excited about!