Everything that Jaclyn Bethany does has such a depth and poetry to it. I’ve interviewed her about several of her projects, and people whom she’s worked with. Jaclyn has an eye for working with emerging talent, and it has been so exciting to follow her career. I got to speak with her about one of her latest films, “Before the World Set on Fire,” which has characters that are so complex in nature. Jaclyn really takes her films to another level, ad this film is no different! The feature had its world premiere at the New Orleans Film Festival this week.
In the wake of a college lockdown due to a mysterious illness that spread across campus, Professor Anya Davis leads a group of undergraduates through a tenuous philosophy seminar. Following a devastating incident concerning student Wilder Hewitt at the end of the class, Anya becomes a suspect in the sudden tragedy.
What inspired this project?
I wanted to do a mystery around a female academic. I thought it could be compelling, because usually those kind of stories are from a male perspective. I also was brainstorming ways I could make a film during a pandemic with an ensemble. That was when the idea of zoom came along, and then the extra footage that was made around the film. It took three years to make, so I didn’t want it to feel so connected to the pandemic.
You did a good job with the extra footage.
We did two different shoots, one in 2020 and one in 2022. The project just kept evolving, as we were going through the different stages of the pandemic. I’d never worked like that before on a film. I kept pursuing the project because of the commitment of the cast and the strength of the story. We started with a rough outline, and also a casting director, Marin Hope. At the time, she wasn’t working on anything, because everyone was home, so we started on the project in the spring of 2020.
Wow! Right when everything kicked off!
So once we got the cast together, one person came on, and then another, and then we got our cast. From there, we developed the script and the story with the cast, because everyone had the time. We had a two-week zoom shoot. Since we didn’t have to worry about setting up lights, cameras, or having a makeup person, there was a lot more of a discussion around the story, and the building of the characters. It wasn’t the typical trajectory of making a film because part of it was done remotely.
The cast is great! I was excited to see Julie Sarah Stone as part of the ensemble. She is great in Lindsay MacKay’s “Wet Bum.”
There was supposed to be more of her in the film, but because of zoom, it kind of took us out of the story when she appeared. We couldn’t get her on location in-person because she couldn’t get a visa to the US since she is based out of Canada. But she is an amazing young actor.
I can see you working with her on another project.
If she can work in the US. Unfortunately, we cannot shoot in Canada. But that was something that was interesting about shooting during the pandemic, and using zoom, it gave us the opportunity to bring people together from all over the world. Eve Connolly was in Ireland when we were on the zoom.
I loved Brooke Bloom as the lead actress. How did you get her for this starring role, and how was it working with her on this project?
We had a lot of people in common through New York and theater. I had seen her in “She’s Lost Control,” and she’s really great. She plays a PhD student who plays a sexual surrogate. It’s a bold performance like this one. It was my first time working with her, and she worked with me on this project for years. Brooke was instrumental in shaping this role, the narrative, and the lecture because she had to know what she was talking about.
I really appreciated all of the layers that were in this film, and you made some really bold choices in the story during the sequences filmed via Zoom. I also appreciated how you weren’t on the nose about COVID, but that it was a strange mysterious disease, sort of in the vein of science fiction, that was occuring within the student body. Was there a reason for that choice?
It couldn’t seem like a pandemic, because it was an infection that was short-term. It had to feel like it was something more immediate, and everyone was sheltering in place. They didn’t know who caused the leak, there was more uncertainty about it. It was interesting playing around with that, like, ‘Is this real, or is it just in my head?’ I liked structuring the story, and making it kind of like a “witch hunt” towards Brooke’s character. And I wasn’t interested in showing any kind of intimate relationship with Wilder, I just think that’s what it was.
What do you hope people see in your film?
It’s interesting because the film leaves a lot up to the audience. I don’t think enough films do that. It makes you think, and it makes you uncomfortable. It’s also about the problems of an institution, and the treatment of an accomplished woman in a higher education position. I think the film also asks questions about mental health, like, ‘What could have been done for Wilder?’ These are topics I feel we all have trouble talking about.