Casting (around)(1)

James Benning

I think I met Jim at the Edinburgh festival, 1977.  It might have been 78.  I was screening Angel City and Last Chants for a Slow Dance, and he was showing 11×14.  I think – it was a long time ago.  I recall liking the film, and, in whatever glancing contact we had, liking him too.   Over the years I saw him again at this festival or that, as well as his films, and a few times I dropped by Cal Arts, where he’s been teaching some decades, and we’d go out and have a beer and some talk.  The last time I saw him was at the Jeonju festival, 2010, where we had a bit more time – I recall the reception for Pedro Costa particularly as it was, shall we say, a bit humorous – and I saw him, not for the first time, do a Q&A, talk about his work and such.   There was a symposium of some kind as well.  I consider him a friend, though we haven’t really spent enough time together over these decades (working on 4) to really say so.   Anyway some months ago as I began to think of making another American film, somehow I thought he’d make a good presence in what I wanted to do – I like the way he’s aged and I like the way he talks and presents himself.  And then, importantly, I like him.  So I asked if he’d play a role for me in the film and happily he said yes.   He’s busy, and he can only give me a handful of days, but I can deal with that.  I’ll work the film around this limitation, like I usually do around whatever handcuffs I am presented.  I don’t know that he’s ever “acted” before, and a little bit ago he wrote to let me know that he doesn’t like “acting” – not him acting, but the process itself.  Only one of his films to my recollection has actors – Landscape Suicide.  I liked it very much, though the actors in it were more Bressonian figures than the usual “actors.”   I think I understand, and I most certainly do understand the problem with “acting” in the sense I think he’s getting at.  I have the same problem.

For the film he’ll play a retired surveyor.  Not sure much about that will come into play, just as I am not sure about most of the film so far.  I do know what he’ll do, an event around which the film will be structured.  Not letting on just yet what that will be.”

Above are images from three of Jim’s many films: Ruhr, Casting a Glance, and 10 Skies.  I’ve asked him to do some shots for me for Coming to Terms – his shots, but appropriate for the film.  Thankfully he’s agreed to do so – and I am sure that Butte, the open pit mines, and the area around will give him ample material to do so.

Kate Sannella

I met Kate back in 1991 I believe.  I was in Newport, staying at a now sadly vanished motel, up on the bluff overlooking the Pacific.  There were a handful of blue cabins, not sure how old, one a two story item which it was reputed was Ken Kesey’s writing lair.  Or one of them.   Now there is a modern anonymous place, lacking all character.  I was researching and setting up The Bed You Sleep In, and was looking for local people to act in it as well.  I had two actors lined up: Tom Blair (Last Chants for a Slow Dance, Sure Fire), and Ellen McCaughlin (Angels in America), but I needed more and I wanted, if possible, local people.   I went to an audition at the Newport Community Theater, looking to see if I could get some help, and Kate, among the others performing, jumped out for me.  I asked her if she’d like to be in a film – not knowing at the time what character she would play, or anything, except I found her compelling.  She said yes, if I remember properly, with a bit of excitement.   And, after a while, and importantly, I liked her as a person.   Her performance in The Bed You Sleep In was wonderful, and we got along well.  A few months later I returned to Newport shooting Frameup, and she played a small role in it.  1991.  A decade and more later I returned to Newport to shoot another film, Homecoming, and she plays a major role in it, again, wonderfully.

The Bed You Sleep In


On deciding to make Coming to Terms, I contacted Kate and asked her to be in it.  She indicated she wasn’t sure she could as she’d lost her job to budgetary cuts by the State of Oregon, and her unemployment was running out.  Financially she seemed to suggest it might not be possible.   Whatever I had or have in mind for this film, I was certain I wanted Kate in it, and while I went to Neah Bay, and intended to go to Anaconda to check them out as my settings, I also was willing, if necessary, to place the film in or around Newport, just to have her.   On visiting to see her, and check Newport out once again, she said it was possible to do the film, and to travel to do so.   So I moved on to Montana, and made a shift, deciding Walkerville was a best setting.   Kate will join for two weeks of the shoot.  For which I am immensely happy.


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