A Song for Anna, SCAD student Eli Elikatzoff’s 15-minute senior film about two sisters fighting for survival in a “post-apocalyptic world,” seems to be quite more than just a story of fictional characters.
After witnessing a mere twenty minutes of filming at a local sand quarry off of Ogeechee Road, I have to say, the transfer from script to screen required some serious intestinal fortitude on the part of the entire crew.
According to writer and director Eli, A Song for Anna is a story about two sisters, Dinah and Anna, in a struggle to survive a devastating storm while living in a world void of people and life. Dinah, who cares for her mentally and physically disabled younger sister, longs for human contact and fantasizes of a new life far away over the mountains.
Her fantasy that is transformed into hope and relentless determination after she witnesses a new form of life, a bird, whom she then entrusts to lead the way into her Utopia.
Along their journey, with the storm at their heels, Dinah is presented with obstacles that test the depths of her character and force her to make terrifying decisions, ultimately having to choose between possibly sacrificing her dream and life to save her sister, or leave her to die in the storm.
Picture this - 34 degrees (freezing for us Savannahians) and the sun is just starting to rise. Eli’s crew has already been staged and ready to roll for the past hour.
Rodrigo, assistant director, finds me driving around aimlessly in the sand quarry, still trying to wake up while looking for some form of life. I guess that’s the idea behind using this as the site.
Dreading to abandon the heat in my car, we walk a good 100 yards to the set where I witness the scene of Dinah climbing the mountains at the brink of the storm. Barely dressed for this weather while the crew is bundled up, she is piggybacking the actress who plays Anna up the rain-saturated sand dunes of the sand quarry.
As she stumbles to the top, no doubt tired, she is met with her prize. Two other crew members only a yard or so away, blasting air in her face with giant leaf blowers to create the special effect of wind.
But no, not hot air.
“Cut!” She shakes off the cold and gets ready to run through it all over again. And again. My hands and fingers are already chilled to the bone after watching only one take.
And what about the special effects to create the torrential rains of the storm? A few hours before my arrival, Eli hesitantly sent the Savannah Fire Department home.
The weather was far too cold for his cast to be hosed down by our local firemen as originally planned, and he wasn’t about to risk sending them into hypothermia. However, this didn’t stop them the morning before, when they took advantage of the downpour and spent hours in the rain without shelter, even though it was only about five degrees warmer.
I’m impressed. As I said, I only spent about twenty minutes out there before deciding I would talk to Eli in the comfort of a climate-controlled room.
Later at Eli’s house, the crew is still trying to recover from the cold while reviewing the footage. After watching the measures that Eli and his team took make the story as realistic as possible, from shooting in the freezing rain to coordinating with Oatland Island to use a trained owl as the bird, I had to know why he chose this storyline?
What did the story mean to Eli, and what did he want his audience to walk away with in the end?
“It’s about the very difficult choices we make in life. Because I think that’s what makes life beautiful and at the same time worthwhile. They are decisions that no one wants to make, but on a minor level, everyone makes these kinds of decisions,” he says.
“When you strive for your dreams you have to have determination with a clear head at the same time. If you don’t, you might get that, but you’ll lose everything else in the process,” says Eli.
And in the end, it is Dinah who is so far lost in her fantasy world that she loses everything. Her dreams lead to her fall, and we are surprised to find the disabled Anna to be the true protagonist. Anna shared that same dream, but she was grounded through the entire story.
That wasn’t the only stereotype Eli played on when choosing the characters. He was also extremely focused on breaking the stereotypical roles of women and men in film.
When they originally wrote the script, it was a brother and younger sister. But after problems finding the right male to play the older brother, he began to consider a female to play the lead.
And once they started playing with this idea, they ended up embracing the chance to break the stereotypes of sex.
“In your generic Hollywood film, people tend to cast men as the male protectors. Somehow for some reason, if two women were there, they would crumble and fall and never make it on their own. Whereas if there was a guy, he would make it on his own, which is just not true,” he says.
“I think it’s important, especially in our society now, to show that a woman can be a protector, not because she’s motherly, but because she’s a protector. A protagonist can be a female just because she’s a female, and it means nothing about her sex.”
Without the motivation and hard work of his team, Eli says he would not have been able to make the shooting a success at the sand quarry.
“I would say it’s the best crew I’ve ever worked with in a SCAD production. We’ve been meeting at 4:30 a.m., sometimes 5, depending on the day. Everyone’s in a good mood,” he remarks.
“It’s real dedication. You don’t find that anywhere, it’s rare. Really it’s our actors that are brave, they go through everything. They’re freezing! And it’s really tough to shoot out there,” says Eli.
“Yesterday, we had this one kid who hiked off to use the bathroom. Suddenly I get a phonecall saying, “Eli, I’m stuck really deep!” So we run over and he’s up to his knees in mud. It’s fun, it’s an adventure in itself.”