Artist of the Week Benelli Amosah ’24 on Filming Feelings

About a week ago, Benelli Amosah ’24, and I were chatting in the elevator as we often do. I was curious about the trolley of camera equipment parked outside her room, so I naturally wanted to know why. To my surprise, Benelli shared that she’s a film major working on her Senior Capstone. I collapsed into a cluster of questions: I needed to know more about her favorite directors and when she started making films — I wanted to hear it all. 

So, when we sat down for pound cake and seltzer at Sci, I ravenously asked Benelli what makes her so passionate about film and how she came about her current project.

“When I was younger, I wanted to become an actress. And every weekend me and my mom would go to the movie theater to see a movie,” Amosah said. “It’s just so magical. I wanted to see my name in the credits. In school, I also enjoyed theater and performing on stage. But it was really in my high school English classes that I started learning what it meant to be behind the camera instead of in front of it.”

She continued, describing her experience in high school. “We watched this movie and my teacher gave us a guide breaking down some traditional film techniques. It discussed different types of cuts, types of framings and angles, and the effects they have. For example, if you shoot a low angle then that’ll make a character appear more powerful or imposing or stronger. So I just learned all these small details in movies that I never had considered before. It really intrigued and inspired me. I ended up making my first short film in sophomore year of high school.”

Interestingly, Benelli described loving film as if it were almost an act of fate: she was always going to be a film major. All she needed was to better cultivate her audio-visual language. She smiled, emphasizing, “My first short film was not very high quality, but it was a good start. And then in my junior and senior years, I went to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics: a public boarding school. There, I took a film studies class for the first time. In my junior year of high school, I did an independent project on the portrayal of mental disorders in film and TV, and then I made a short film for that as well.”

Shortly after coming to Swarthmore, Benelli faced two semesters of strict COVID regulations and online courses. She was able to do some film production, but it was difficult being on a one-person crew. The short film that came out of the production visualized her particular feeling of isolation and the need for connectedness. Benelli had a different feeling sophomore year. “Sophomore year was in person, so I took the advanced production course, which was pretty uncommon. I just wanted to get through the techniques as fast as I could to build up the hands-on experience,” Amosah said. “My film ‘The Next Day’ was accepted into the Tri-Co Film Festival that year.” 

Benelli explained, ‘The Next Day’ follows a college senior who is stuck reliving the same day over and over again, after she finds out about her father’s imminent deportation back to his country. The subtext of the film is just taking a feeling or thought that I had, and then manifesting it in visual form.”

The film was somewhat autobiographical — Benelli based it on a feeling she experienced during that semester. 

“At the time, I sort of wanted time to stop because sometimes I’ll feel so overwhelmed with all these responsibilities and I want to live life for a bit without thinking about the next deadline. Usually in those types of movies, the character is constantly trying to get out of the time loop because they need to move on,” Amosah said. “But, with this one, my protagonist wants to save time because it’s the comfort to not have to deal with some sort of negative future. She has to come to terms with herself so that she can move forward in time and then reach the good things in life.”

Benelli’s current project comes from a similar place of inspiration, “My current film draws from my personal experiences. Basically, it is set in a world in which there’s no dating per se. People receive an invitation just once in their life to go to a matching ceremony, and then they go and get a ring. And when they touch their soulmate, their ring changes color. Then they can get married happily ever after. Easy. And everyone’s gonna do it at some point in their life.” 

She continued, “The main character has gone to these quasi- dating events time and time again, but her ring has never changed. So she started to wonder if something was wrong with her. But, the next time that she goes, she notices someone off to the side. And when she touches them, the ring changes color. She’s excited because she finally found her soulmate. But her love isn’t quite a person, per se, but rather the physical embodiment of Love itself.”

Benelli explained that her film stems from an aromantic and asexual perspective, acknowledging that “not everyone’s going to be watching it from there. But some people might still feel that pressure of ‘Oh, I’m gonna get into a relationship just because everyone else is in a relationship,’ and I hope they also find something to connect to. In my movie, I want other people to get something out of it, even if it wasn’t what I had intended.”

Benelli’s project reminded me of Spike Jonze’s Her: perhaps romantic love is only a page of your novel. In an isolated community like Swarthmore, with such a small student body, the pressure to find someone can feel constraining. In those moments, it’s important to remember that life is significant because of the relationships surrounding us: familial, friendly, or romantic.

Benelli underlined, “They are all valid forms of love. We’re constantly surrounded by romance, whether that be on TV or books or in the real world, but we need to remember that it’s okay not to engage in that type of love because romance is not what defines us.”

As we wrapped up the interview and I finished my seltzer, Benelli added, “I think my final remark about film is that it’s a really unique and powerful medium for storytelling and for creativity. I’m into film production, but I’m also really into film analysis. And those go hand in hand because if you understand the structures of the film, then you can apply that to your filmmaking.”

At the end of the day, a film is shared with a broader audience: the audio visual experience becomes a blend of personal and collective feeling. “Yes, when you make the film it’s for yourself to an extent, but at the same time you want others to see you. You want them to also feel emotion. That’s, for me, the most important part of visual storytelling. All my stories are incredibly sincere, and are my own feelings, so the hope is that other people have also felt those emotions at some point.”

If you’d like to watch Benelli’s films, you can visit her website here.

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