Where does consent begin and end in relationships — or does it ever end?

That is the question that Windsor-based film writer and director Ben Hess is looking to address in his upcoming short film project, “Head.”

The film is based off of real events and tells the story of two college roommates, Jeremy and Eric, who over the course of the semester become more than just friends.

However, things take a turn for the worse when Eric’s bigoted upbringing rises to the surface after an incident where boundaries are crossed.

Hess describes the film as “part dramatic love story, part cautionary tale” that delves into what happens in a relationship “when trust is broken, consent is questioned and forgiveness seems impossible.”

“This is a short that tackles some social issues. The crux of it is around consent — sex assault, essentially,” Hess explained. “It’s a very delicate topic and I am trying really hard to be as conscientious as I can about how it is going to be presented and all that.”

The cast of the upcoming movie, “Head,” from left to right: Erik Sokolowski playing Jeremy, Abena plays Det. Delaney, andDaniel Van Note is playing the role of Eric. (Courtesy/Ben Hess)

While the film will address a few different issues and questions, the main focal point is: Does consent end when two people enter into a relationship?

“I’ve talked with people about this story and I’ve had people say ‘oh my goodness, that’s happened to me by my spouse or by the person I am in a relationship with and I’ve never thought twice about it.’ And a lot of people wouldn’t think about it,” Hess said. “It’s this really intricate balance between where is the right and wrong.”

Another big part of the film’s message is about being true to yourself and accepting who you are.

“Don’t let external factors play into that,” Hess said.

As with a majority of independent film projects, Hess is looking to community members, fellow artists, businesses and organizations to help fund the project.

Through a Kickstarter campaign, Hess is hoping to raise $14,575, which will pay for the cast and crew’s rates, production costs and film festival fees.

“This is considered a moderate budget for a short film, and I am looking for any help that I can get,” Hess said.

On Jan. 30, the clock started running on film’s Kickstarter. The program gives Hess exactly 30 days to raise the money. However, if he doesn’t raise the full amount by the 30th day, he gets none of the money donated to the campaign.

Writer and director Ben Hess tackled the issue of human trafficking in his short film, “Maggie.” (Courtesy/Ben Hess)

To date, the fundraising effort has netted a little over $5,000 with less than 20 days left to raise the requested amount.

While the subject of the film is big, the cast is small —consisting of only three members.

“We have a very inclusive and diverse cast and crew, who are solely focused on telling a sensitive story the right way,” Hess said.

Erik Sokolowski, an actor from Loveland, is portraying Jeremy in the film. Sokolowski has been working on his craft over the past nine years, performing on stage and in a variety of film pieces.

Daniel Van Note, from Denver, will be playing the part of Eric in the short film. Van Note is well versed in the production of short films as he has written, produced, directed and starred in a number projects.  Van Note’s latest short film, “Coming Out” won four awards at international film festivals.

Abena is an American and Ghanaian model, artist and activist who has been cast in the part of Rita Delaney. Abena, who was born in Fort Morgan, can be seen in campaigns for Furniture Row, Crocs, Starbucks, Verizon, Tinder and is best known for her skin representation in the video game “Call of Duty II” as the character, Nila “Nova” Brown.

Along with Hess behind the camera, Jamal Page is producing the film while Eliza Miller is serving as assistant director.

Hudson Bloom is director of photography, Antonia Yanez is the lead production assistant, Russick Smith is sound engineer and Becky Frazee is in charge of hair and makeup for the film.

Greeley resident and UNC student, Chloe Colleen, left, stars alongside Patrick Call, right, in the short film, “Symptoms May Include Shortness of Breath,” written and directed by Ben Hess. (Courtesy/IMDb)

“Head” isn’t the first film where Hess has tackled controversial or sensitive subjects.

His short film, “Maggie” addressed human trafficking in a gripping and gritty 20 minutes.

Hess partnered with The Avery Center in Greeley for their input and advice on the film. The center assists at-risk individuals who are currently experiencing or previously experienced commercial sexual exploitation.

“I knew I wanted to make sure it was true to realistic events,” Hess said. “I worked with those guys to make sure I was staying true to some things that could happen in real life.”

The film garnered several awards, including the San Francisco Indie Short Fest 2020’s Best US Drama, Best Colorado Short as the 2020 Horsetooth International Film Festival and Best US Director, Actor and Actress at the Venice Shorts Fest in October 2020.

For “Be Still,” another short film, Hess partnered with doula Julianne Curtis to create a moving and heartfelt piece about stillbirth and late-term pregnancy loss.

The film follows “Caroline” and her partner through the delivery of a stillborn baby, the emotional ups and downs and their recovery process as well as the shame and embarrassment often associated with stillbirths and late-term pregnancy losses.

Birth, postpartum, and bereavement doula Julieanne Curtis serves the northern Colorado and Cheyenne areas. (Credit Scott I. Wilson)

“Our American culture is the worst. You can’t show your feelings, and how many women think that you are weak if you show your feelings?” Curtis said. “It’s time to not keep everything in and have our time, and have our grief.”

Curtis uses the film to help educate families and health care providers about late-term pregnancy losses and remove the shame and stigma around stillbirths.

As with “Maggie,” the film nabbed several awards at local, regional, national and international film festivals.

In 2021, Hess cast Greeley local Chloe Colleen alongside Patrick Call, Matison Card and Mikandrew for his short suspense thriller, “Symptoms May Include Shortness of Breath.”

“Reading the script, I felt like there was a lot of underlying tones and there was so much to play with in the character,” Colleen said. “Ben knows how to convey what he wants in an easy and reasonable manner. Working with him was so much fun, but also challenging. He challenged me to be my best self.”

“Be Still” takes on the subject of late-term pregnancy loss and the shame and embarrassment often associated with the tragedy. (Courtesy/”Be Still”)

Hess describes the movies as a “chance encounter that very quickly deconstructs into a bad situation.”

The title of the movie is nearly as long as the film, which clocks in at a mere 15-minutes.

Despite being short, the film seizes viewers’ attention and doesn’t let go until the last second. And as with any good suspense movie, there is a twist at the end.

Upon its release, the movie received positive responses and earned its way into the Another Hole in the Head film festival.

As with his previous projects, Hess is looking to enter “Head” into a variety of film festivals.

“Our goal with this film is to reach as many people as we possibly can,” he explained. “This starts with a healthy film festival campaign. We feel it has the right ingredients to be competitive at higher-tier festivals.”

To learn more about “Head,” or to contribute to the film’s Kickstarter, go to https://bit.ly/3HM4kOh .

To check out Hess’s short films, music videos and other work, go to http://bit.ly/3xqCVNj .


This article was originally published in Greeley Tribune