Megan McLachlan is in Savannah, Ga., for SCAD Savannah Film Festival, celebrating 22 years this season.
Greetings from Savannah!
The SCAD Savannah Film Festival is going on from Saturday, October 26 through Saturday, November 2, celebrating one of the leading arts and design institutions in the country along with some of the best in film.
While I missed the first couple of days of the festival (Harriet and Cynthia Erivo!), I got to come in for the third day and was knocked out by the movies I saw.
Homesick and The Pollinators
The first film I got to see at SAVFF was The Pollinators, but preceding the screening, they showed Koya Kamura’s Homesick. Homesick is a short film that takes place two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster and follows a man who braves through a no-go zone for a reason I won’t spoil for you. I truly loved this short and will not forget the final image of the film, a haunting but beautiful sentiment. This was actually the perfect short to play before the documentary The Pollinators, since both films deal with the earth’s destruction in some sense.
“Most people have seen loads of bees coming down the road and don’t know what they’re looking at.” This statement from David Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries completely astounded me, especially when you think about huge trucks rolling down highways with thousands of insects (really? bees?). With The Pollinators, director Peter Nelson (who’s a beekeeper himself) takes audiences around the country showing them how these pollinators help bees move to where they need to go to support our economy and basically our planet. It also shows how smart and empathetic bees are, with images of them pulling their dead mates out of hives and placing them out front. This is definitely an important film to see, and surprisingly, I left the theater buzzing on a positive note, as it does indicate we’re moving in a better direction with saving the bees and farming practices (here’s hoping).
Aldis Hodge & Sienna Miller
Before heading into a screening of Knives Out, I got to talk to Aldis Hodge of Clemency, about working with director Chinonye Chukwu on the drama about death row executions.
“She’s awesome, absolutely brilliant,” Hodge said of Chukwu. “She’s a visionary. She’d been working on it four years before we started shooting. She volunteered on 14 different cases. She’s in it. I got really lucky to be in the company of someone who’s a visionary.”
Hodge took a trip to San Quentin State Prison in preparation for his role as Anthony Woods, an inmate awaiting execution in the film. “When it came to the brothers on death row, we were not allowed to personally speak to them. They were treated with sort of a degree of solitude. Nobody could talk to them, speak to them, or even look at them. It really informed what I thought Anthony’s reality was.”
Another celebrated performance at the festival comes from Sienna Miller. Miller is receiving the best reviews of her career for American Woman, where she plays a woman searching for her daughter while raising her grandchild. The film spans 11 years.
“I definitely knew it was a special part,” said Miller. “I knew it was the best part I’d ever read in a film. It was a very challenging thing to do, but incredibly fulfilling.”
Miller had to do everything from the technical aspects of nailing a dialect to meeting women and men who had lost children. “I spent time looking at people. A lot of my work takes place in that way. We spent a lot of time rehearsing, which was a total gift. I had to map it out in its entirety, because she begins as one thing and ends as someone very, very different.”
The Ladies of Shatterbox
The festival really pushes for female filmmakers, especially with the initiative Refinery 29 + Level Forward Present Shatterbox, now in its third year, which gives female filmmakers a platform for storytelling.
“There’s nothing really else out there like it, that really gives you full creative control over a film, that supports you from the beginning to the end and beyond,” said Kantu Lentz, director of the short film Jack and Jo Don’t Want To Die.
“When a male filmmaker comes into a room, they never say I’m sorry,” said Parisa Barani, director of the short film Human Terrain. “I notice it in myself when I go to a meeting, that I apologize. We need to change the narrative about that.”
“[In my film], the lead is a 70-year-old-plus African American woman,” said Channing Godfrey Peoples, director of the short film Dorothea’s Blues. “[Shatterbox] took a chance on the film and produced it. I think they’re making quite a bit of change [to the industry].”
SCAD is an ideal institution for furthering both male and female filmmakers, but with founder Paula Wallace behind the wheel, it’s definitely the perfect venue for elevating female voices.
President and Chief Content Officer at Refinery 29 Amy Emmerich echoed why SCAD is the right place for this incubator program.
“Honestly the idea that they appreciated the totality of the film program and getting these women together is so important especially now,” said Emmerich. I think that’s what made this a bit more special.”
Monday night, I got to see Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, an Agatha-Christie-esque whodunnit with an amazing cast—Jamie Leigh Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Riki Lindhome, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, oh, and Mr. Daniel Craig. This film was so much fun to watch, especially in a packed theater. Ana de Armas is probably the freshest face in the cast, but she makes a name for herself in this role, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
With rich-families-in-crisis shows like Succession becoming phenomenons, this film has potential to make a big splash at the box office. And it’s good, too, which is always something. The script is tight, the acting first-rate, and if this is all the case, then an Outstanding Cast Ensemble nomination at SAG could be in the future, because everyone is working at the same level—no weak links here. And when they’re all together on screen, it’s electric.
After leaving on a high from Knives Out, Clemency brought me back down to earth. Chinonye Chukwu wrote and directed this dramatic gut punch, with tremendous performances by Aldis Hodge and Alfre Woodard, the latter which could be looking at an Academy Award nomination (although Hodge is great, too). It’s hard to imagine someone else playing Bernadine Williams, since Woodard has always been a master of reserved tension, and this film is definitely a showcase for that skill.
Woodard’s Bernadine has been the prison warden for 12 death row executions in the film, and it’s taking a toll on her mental health and marriage (her husband is played by the incomparable Wendell Pierce). This film gracefully examines how taking lives eats away at the lives of the people performing the executions. One of the questions marks of the film is why Bernadine doesn’t retire, because her husband wants her to, and she doesn’t seem to find any joy in her position (although who would?). As a woman, I completely understood this character, that she probably had worked her way up to this position, and not only that, that she’s a woman of color in power. Is to retire to admit defeat? Would a man stick with this role? There’s no pleasure in this job. I love that mystery and also crave to know more.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.