Filmmaker Emily Bodley will drop the deeply personal horror film “What are Friends For?” at Damnationland as she moves out of Maine. Photo by Jenna Joan

“It was fun. I really didn’t know what I was doing at all, but I pretended that I did.”

And thus a promising Maine moviemaking career began. That’s according to Portland-based (for now) filmmaker Emily Bodley, who was just announced as one of the directors helping to relaunch Maine short horror and dark fiction movie institution Damnationland, after its pandemic-caused three-year hiatus.

“Being part of Damnationland was always a Maine goal of mine,” said North Carolina native Bodley, who moved to Maine in 2017 at the age of 18. But, with Bodley planning to move back south later this year, the filmmaker initially thought her planned exodus would disqualify her.

However, Bodley said, Damnationland co-producer Mackenzie Bartlett told her that dropping a film at the festival’s October State Theatre premiere on her way out the door would be a fine way to finish off the Maine portion of her burgeoning career.

“Mackenzie said it would be the biggest flex,” laughed Bodley. “She sort of stroked my ego there.”

And why not, as Bodley, a self-taught filmmaker and videographer, took a big swing right out of the gate – and connected. Her very first short film, the suitably strange and energetic “Empath,” was accepted to the prestigious Maine International Film Festival, with the still-teenaged Bodley seeing her fledgeling effort being screened in front of hundreds of people at the Waterville Opera House. Her second short, the impressionistic and visually inventive “Laurel Ave,” just won Bodley the best cinematography award at the Maine Film Association 72-Hour Winter Film Challenge. (Author’s note: I was on the jury, and “Laurel Ave” is a visual knockout.)


And now, Bodley has accepted the Damnationland invitation and is preparing to shoot “What Are Friends For?” Bodley said the film is “about a normal woman who starts noticing some pretty bizarre body changes, which get gradually more inexplicable and grotesque while she’s trying to reach out to friends who ignore her.” For Bodley, the film was inspired, unfortunately, by her experiences as a young stranger to Maine.

“It’s a deeply personal concept to me,” said Bodley, who found herself, at 18, suddenly living in the tiny Washington County town of Danforth. “My ex-husband was from there, and ‘What Are Friends For?’ Is about living in a different region, struggling with friendships, and trying to build a reliable, supportive village of relationships. It’s inspired by the deep feeling of loneliness when friends are not reliable when you need them.” Plus, as Bodley explains happily, some serious body-horror.

Citing directors like Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), Darren Arnofsky (“Black Swan”) and David Lynch as her prime stylistic influences for the disturbing developments besetting her protagonist, Bodley promises that viewers will experience the uniquely unsettling tension between long, still takes and shocking incident that mark those directors’ works.

“I’m not attracted to the quick, comedic editing style in horror,” said Bodley. “As a cameraperson/cinematographer, I prefer the anxiety and tension in camerawork, the isolation of character in frame in a wide angle, watching them from afar.”

It’s a style well-suited to the autobiographical nature of Bodley’s film, which, she says, “was inspired by the deep feeling of loneliness that comes from having friends not be there for you.” As she elaborated, “Now, we’re always so accessible by phone, but that backfired in that nobody’s really accessible any more. Seeing those three dots in response to a text, and then watching them disappear.” Noting that she may not be able to attend the Damnationland premiere of her film (she’s moving this fall), Bodley admitted to some ambivalence. “This movie is extremely personal, something so mortifying and also satisfying. Honestly, it’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt.”

Luckily, Bodley, despite the sentiment expressed in her film’s title, has plenty of friends on board to help bring “What Are Friends For?” to life in time for the October showcase. Citing fellow North Carolinian Eric Robbins’ screenplay for expanding her initial concept and the invaluable work of co-producer Catie Collier, Bodley is also counting on some new friends, in the form of a crowdfunding campaign, to help raise the film’s planned $3,000 budget. Turning to the indispensable fundraising site for creatives, Indiegogo, Bodley and Collier had already raised more than $1,700 as of Aug. 18, with a deadline of Sunday for donations.


Said Bodley, “It’s mind-boggling that we raised more than half in a week. That said, I’m paying for everything out of pocket now, which means I’m broke for the next month, until I can pay myself back.” Still, even with the film’s reasonable budget taxing her indie filmmaker wallet, Bodley says it’s important to pay her cast and crew. “We’re planning for four days of production, with very long hours. It’s important as a leader to make people feel valued.”

For Bodley, who’ll be joined in this year’s Damnationland by Maine filmmakers Bodhi Ouellette, Samantha Quirion, Ben Rooker, Amber Chilton and Ricardo Lorenzo, her movie-making journey is just beginning. “I see the value in film school, but I personally don’t do well in my heart in school. It hurts me in ways that make me lose my passion for the art form.” For the enthusiastic and knowledgeable lifelong film enthusiast Bodley, what’s worked best is simply jumping in and getting things done. “I’ve learned to delegate, to manage time, and to not wear so many hats you get burned out.”

As Bodley leaves Maine to continue her filmmaking journey, she’s enthusiastic about helping Damnationland get back to its roots as a showcase for directors looking to see their own dark and personal visions up on the big screen. “I’ve noticed a trend of comedy horror or even no horror creeping in in the past – mine is not gonna be that. It’s going to be a little bloody, a little gory, a little body-horror-y. I’m going to make everyone extremely uncomfortable.”

Can’t wait.

To learn more about Emily Bodley and “What Are Friends For?,” check out the film’s Indiegogo page, where you can join the dozens of people who’ve donated already. And look for the grand return of Damnationland right around Halloween-time at Portland’s State Theatre.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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