By Chris Illich
Back in the early ‘90s Niagara resident Erica Benedikty, fresh out of the Film & Television Production program at Humber College, had a dream to create a movie. She volunteered at the local community television station (which at the time was Maclean-Hunter) and was hired just prior to shooting her debut film Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments, a science fiction film that was created here in Niagara. Phobe first aired on March 5, 1995.
Without ruining the story, could you describe the plot of Phobe?
Well, there is this alien race who created a group of soldiers in this far-off world called Mondora. They were used to help win a war between planets and after the war was done they no longer needed these soldiers. So, they banished them to this small little planet in isolation and over a period of time some of them start escaping. A team was put together to hunt down these Phobes, the person you see, Sergeant Dap, was the last remaining member of this team as most of the phobes were wiped out. That Phobe escaped and ended up on Earth and that’s where most of the movie takes place, basically hunting down this Phobe before it caused too much damage and destruction.
I assume it must have been difficult to film a script like that — just on a production standpoint — because I assume, working with a community television station that you were working on a shoestring budget.
I wrote it with the intention of producing it on a no budget production, so that’s why most of it takes place on Earth. We did have a small budget of $250, so luckily we had all the gear provided. There were a few scenes in the original script that never made it to the final cut because we tried doing a few things that we couldn’t figure out properly so we had to scrap them and come up with something new. But some of the fun things like the light saber battle — we wanted to do it, so we did it — were really time consuming, drawing one frame at a time on an old Amiga computer. That took many, many hours. That being said, everybody just wanted to do it and no one second-guessed it and we just kept on going. We were young and excited and had no responsibilities other than to finish the film.
How does it feel to look back on the film 21 years later?
When you look back on it you just look and say, ‘Oh my God, did I do that?’ It was a lot of work, I’ll admit, but it was a lot of fun too. It’s fun to look back and see what we achieved because it wasn’t something that was very common at the time. Today everybody has YouTube and a camera and anyone can make a movie. Back then it wasn’t as common to do that kind of stuff.
I’m really looking forward to having it screen at the PAC with a local crowd who have potentially seen it before, to just sit there and watch it and see what the reaction is like. That’s a whole different feeling than looking at it on the television. It’s such a beautiful facility and I can’t wait to screen it there.
Phobe screens on April 23 at the FirstOntario Performing Art Centre.