Since Brad Raider was young, he’s had a yen for theater and film. The Cheltenham native’s career has traversed everything from the stage to television to movies. Its latest iteration saw him as the writer, director and star of his film Kensho at the Bedfellow, which begins streaming on iTunes on March 9.
In the micro-budget film, Raider’s character, Dan Bender, is a playwright turned hotel doorman, struggling with the death of his younger sister and overall feelings of entrapment from his job and his relationships. While his character goes through a turbulent period, it leads him back to his childhood love, and to self-discovery.
The film is full of personal aspects, which were inspired, in part, by pieces of Raider’s own life and experiences. Part of the self-discovery revolves around Kensho, a Japanese term loosely translating to “seeing nature” or “seeing essence.” It is “an awakening, the experience of seeing one’s truest nature,” says Raider. The Zen Buddhist tradition isn’t just significant to the film, but to Raider, who practices meditation, as do many of the film’s cast and crew.
“I needed a catalyst for Dan’s shift in perspective that was, perhaps, more dramatic than years of evolution through more traditional means,” he says. By using Kensho, Raider was able to delve deeper into areas not often discussed in the mainstream. “I explore a lot of themes in the film and ask a lot of questions, not all of which I attempt to answer. I love the feeling of going to the movies and being inspired by what happens in those two hours. It’s wonderful to be able to give that to others, whether they’re inspired to explore their own sense of fulfillment or connectedness or their life purpose,” Raider says.
The plot also delves into the work done by the International Rescue Committee, which aids those who are affected by conflict and disaster in 40 countries around the world. Part of that storyline, too, has personal significance for Raider, inspired by his mother, Loretta, who worked with the U.N. “My mother is an organizational development consultant and peace-builder all over the world. It’s always been very inspiring to witness the passion she has for her work,” he says.
Raider gives a big nod to his mom’s work by having one of the characters work for the IRC, which he thought was more appropriate for the storyline. In a way, Loretta did more than provide a career for a character; she helped put her son in a place to be inspired. Raider went on a U.N. trip to Africa with her in 2005, which he says “became a powerful inspiration for Kensho’s development.”
That year would prove to be a perfect storm of inspiration for Raider, who also began learning meditation. Four years later, he had a first draft of the screenplay. “It still needed a lot of work and I continued the refinement process as it became very much informed by my spiritual journey and exploration into consciousness and meditation,” he says.
By 2015, the film was complete and being shown at festivals, where it received critical acclaim. Among the awards it won are Best Feature Film at the Equality Film Festival and the Spirit Quest Film Festival. It also won the NY Showcase Award at the Harlem Film Festival.
Now, the film is being released across the United States, and will be available globally in the future. “That’s the biggest thrill now, experiencing the film through others peoples’ eyes. As a director, you live with the story for so many years and when it’s all over, you’ve watched your own film an innumerable amount of times—on set, in the edit bay, on the screen, in your own head—living with it everyday. It’s incredibly gratifying to have other people respond to it and experience it for the first time,” says Raider.
Loretta, who still resides in Cheltenham, has a similar feeling of excitement and pride for her son. “He’s worked so incredibly hard to be able to do this. It’s really a labor of love and to see him have success and have a world wide audience is exciting,” she says.
Her pride couldn’t overshadow her initial, nerves though. “The first time I saw it, I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve always been amazed that when I’m watching him perform, I totally forget that he’s my son. I get really into him as the character he’s playing,” she adds, noting she and her husband even have a small cameo in the film.
After the years-long process, Raider, his cast and crew, and family can finally enjoy the film and its socially conscious message emerging in the world.
A portion of the film’s proceeds will benefit the IRC. See the movies on iTunes here.