Life’s big questions are the subject of the indie film Ben & Ara, which will be screened on February 23rd at 8 p.m. as part of the Winter Film Awards Festival. Ben, played by Joseph Baird, is a doctoral philosophy student, stuck in a fog of uncertainty on all fronts: what’s the right topic for his thesis? —does he love the woman he is in a relationship
with? —does he believe in God? —can he make a life for himself outside the walls of academia? Ara, played by Constance Ejuma, is a devout Muslim preparing to defend her thesis to the doctoral board. She finds strength in her faith yet finds herself intrigued by the world around her. Her eyes opened, it challenges her to defend her beliefs and know for certain where she stands personally in the world. At the same time, she is under pressure to decide if she can love a man unlike anyone she has ever met, a white atheist who lives in the moment. In this interview, actress and co-producer Constance Ejuma talks about the inspiration for Ara, and offers some advice for film students. By Matthew Reich
What was the inspiration for Ara?
Our screenwriter, Joseph Baird, drew much of the story from his grad school experience where he had a mixture of friends from various different backgrounds and cultures. Ara’s character isn’t based on one person in particular, but she clearly represents a specific culture and way of thinking.
Does Ara represent the modern Muslim woman?
Yes, I’d say she does. Obviously, there are varying degrees to which a person can observe the tenets of any faith they choose to practice, and Ara’s spiritual evolution takes her from one end of the spectrum and moves her a few paces closer to the middle. Many Muslim women who have watched the film strongly identify with her.
Without spoiling the plot for people who haven’t seen the movie yet, there’s a big question that is left ambiguous.
Yes. We wanted the audience to decide what happens. Either scenario is valid, and I suppose people would lean towards one answer or the other depending on the lens through which they choose to see the world. I’m a fan of open endings and enjoy the idea of making the audience work it out for themselves.
What was the most difficult part of filming Ben & Ara?
Working on a shoestring budget was a huge challenge, but we were fortunate enough to have the support of an amazing cast and crew.
What do you wish the audiences reaction or takeaway to be?
To ask themselves whether or not they are as different as they think they are.
For those who are currently going to college majoring in film, theatre and/or media production, what advice can you give them?
Don’t let anything stop you, especially not small-minded beliefs about whether or not your story is worth telling. It absolutely is, and there’s someone out there who needs to hear it.
Matt Reich is a sophomore at Mercy College majoring in Media Studies: Television and Radio Production. He is the creator and host of Just Say It and Real America, which can be found on his YouTube Channel: MattisLiving.