Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Interview: Director Neasa Hardiman on Her Felicitous Debut Feature SEA FEVER

by Michelle Swope
BAFTA Award-winning writer/director Neasa Hardiman (Happy Valley, Jessica Jones) began her career producing several television shows for the RTÉ network in Ireland and has since worked on both American and British productions. She designed the RTÉ network’s current logo, has made award-winning documentaries, has written and directed original theater, and earned a PhD in Film Theory from Trinity College Dublin.

Hardiman’s debut feature film, Sea Fever, made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019. Intelligently written and eerily apt, Sea Fever is a science fiction creature feature that stars Hermione Corfield (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Connie Nielsen (Wonder Woman 1984, Gladiator), and Dougray Scott (Batwoman, Mission Impossible 2). Hermione Corfield stars as Siobhán, a smart, shy marine biology student who reluctantly has to spend a week on an old fishing boat where she feels wildly out of place among the crew. Once they are deep in the Atlantic, members of the crew fall victim to an unusual infection one by one. When Siobhán begins researching the strange sickness, she realizes that everyone onboard the boat has come into contact with a previously unknown organism that could potentially threaten the future of human existence as we know it.

Startling visual effects, strong performances, and a chilling narrative with shocking parallels to the global pandemic we are facing in real-time make Sea Fever a compelling horror film that will appeal to fans of classics like The Thing and Alien.
Prior to the film’s digital release on April 10th, Gunpowder & Sky’s sci-fi label DUST will host the live stream premiere of Sea Fever on Thursday, April 9th at 5:00 pm PT / 8:00 pm ET at This is the first-ever live stream premiere of a feature film. Fans can tune in to watch the official Sea Fever premiere together, post comments in a chatroom, and have their questions answered by the cast and crew via a moderated Q&A following the credits. You can also pre-order Sea Fever here.

Recently, F This Movie! had the pleasure of speaking with director Neasa Hardiman about her inspiration for Sea Fever, the striking similarities between the story and the global pandemic, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about.

FTM: I really enjoyed Sea Fever. How did you come up with the concept and why did you want the story to be set on a boat?

Neasa Hardiman: [laughter] I asked myself that several times! In terms of the concept, I tend to come at things from a very, kind of abstract, perspective and so I knew I love psychological thrillers and I love horror and I love sci-fi, and I knew that I wanted to join up in that space. I love stories that have that kind of tense, propulsive narrative and that also have something chewy that you can take away with you; something that has a dreamlike relevance for real sociopolitical questions. I feel like the films that we make that are in that space that are the best are always parables and naturally fun, so I wanted to ask questions at the same time as telling a story that I hoped would have that psychological thriller kind of quality to it. The kind of films that I was seeing were really anti-science.
I wanted to make a story that really valorizes the scientific method, that went, “No, this is important and good.” I’m tired of hearing these stories that are kind of Icarus stories. “Oh, don’t fly too close to the sun! Don’t steal secrets that belong to God!” That’s not how I feel and that’s not what I believe science is and I wanted to tell a story that was absolutely the opposite of that, that was about how science can save our lives. Like if I have a character for whom the scientific method is everything, where would you put her where she would be most challenged? Because my parents are from the West of Ireland and my grandfather was a fisherman, I knew that that was a world where there was a lot of superstition and a lot of magical thinking, so I thought, “Okay, brilliant!” And there’s a natural intersection there between philanthropic studies and a really, really traditional, quite beautiful folkloric and magical world, so I thought, “Okay, that’s great. That’s a great intersection and we can explore what’s valuable about both of those traditions and then, what I hope I managed to do in the film, is make a story where we’ve got somebody who’s really invested in scientific method who actually, through her commitment to scientific method, becomes a kind of mythical hero at the end of the story.

FTM: For me, some elements of Sea Fever feel reminiscent of movies like The Thing. Are there any filmmakers who inspire you?

Neasa Hardiman: Yes, obviously there’s The Thing and Alien that are so iconic in this kind of fear and I wanted to reference those things. I’m really nerdy and I’ve done a huge amount of research into every possible film I could think of that had this kind of quality to it of encountering something unfamiliar. Then look at the tropes and analyze what the tropes are and go, “Okay, how can we subvert these? How can we both honor the audience, knowing they’re going to know what these are, and then pull the carpet from under the audience going, ‘You think you know what this story is, but actually it’s something else?’” A sort of desire to join hands with the audience going, “We all enjoy this, but now let’s take it in a different direction.”

FTM: I know it’s not intentional, but Sea Fever feels shockingly up-to-the-minute, considering that we’re facing a global pandemic right now and a lot of the world is under quarantine. There is quite a bit of discussion about the need for quarantine in the film, for different reasons of course. What do you think about the relevance of the story and timing as far as what we’re experiencing in the world right now?

Neasa Hardiman: It’s so weird! It is so weird. It’s so extraordinary and here’s what I think. When we were making the film, the thing we were thinking about was the climate crisis and what the kind of central question of the film is, is what does it mean to take responsibility for yourself? What does it mean to take responsibility for the person next to you? What does it mean to take responsibility for your community and for your world? And what are the ethics of that and what are the really difficult questions in that? And what I wanted to do in those arguments about quarantine was really looking into that so that there are contradictory arguments, all of which make sense, and all of which we kind of understand. So, the audience, I hope, will have to make up their own mind about what the right thing to do here is, but ultimately, what I wanted to critique in that story I suppose as well is that often in these kinds of stories we imagine the protagonist and ourselves, as humans, as existing outside everything that is around us, that we’re not part of it. That we’re not part of our community or part of our ecosystem. And of course, that’s a misrecognition. We’re a dynamic and integrated part of our neighborhood, of our family, of our community, of our world and everything we do has repercussions and consequences. And I think that’s why it feels really contemporary suddenly or really timely suddenly, because it’s something that I think we’ve all kind of been pulled up short on going, “Oh My God. What I do is so important to everybody around me.”
FTM: I know that Sea Fever will be available on digital on April 10th. Can you tell me what you’re working on next?

Neasa Hardiman: I would absolutely love to. I’m working on another film, which you’ll be surprised to learn, is a grander Sci-Fi [laughs]. It’s going to be in similar territory. And I’m in the middle of production on a big Netflix thriller, which is an international mystery thriller, which is more directly political. We shot three months in New York and three months in Israel. That was due at the end of September, but of course since nobody is doing anything right now, I guess it’s going to be later in the year.

FTM: Well, I adored Sea Fever, so I’m really looking forward to those. I really appreciate you taking time to talk with me today and I hope you stay safe and well!

Neasa Hardiman: Oh, you are so kind! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk. It’s such a pleasure.

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