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Immersed in Movies: Talking Indie Drama 'Savannah,' Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and James Caviezel (TRAILER)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood August 23, 2013 at 12:18PM

"Savannah" is the latest entry in this year's cycle of movies devoted to the African-American experience. Director Annette Haywood-Carter discusses shooting her first indie.
Annette Haywood-Carter with Chiwetel Ejiofor and James Caviezel
Annette Haywood-Carter with Chiwetel Ejiofor and James Caviezel

"Savannah's" ultimately about being trapped in time. Allen's an eccentric, boastful, and drunken free-spirit, but also a passionate defender of his market hunting rights (supplying ducks to the local restaurants). There's a bit of Emerson and Thoreau in him. He has a tempestuous relationship with his wife, Lucy Stubbs ("Thor's" Jaimie Alexander), a free-spirit in her own right, who's attracted to this charismatic bad boy that neglects her.

"Ward was adamantly resistant to change," Haywood-Carter offers. "He was also wrong: He was fighting game laws that really needed to be passed. The birds in Ward's time were being killed off in great numbers. There was a time when the sky would turn as black as night when these birds would fly through. But they disappeared in the tens of thousands from over hunting. It's what happens to a person when the world that's a reflection of their belief system disappears out from under them. In Ward's case, he didn't change, but there was something heroic in his insistence on prevailing as this man of a passing era. We romanticize that in America, and it is one of the things that makes the film ultimately appealing."

In discussing the role with Caviezel, though, Haywood-Carter stressed how they should reveal the fun-loving side before displaying his more familiar solemnity. There's a riveting scene when he takes Lucy (suffering from postpartum depression) to his cherished Savannah River for the first time and breaks down before admitting he should've let her into his world sooner. "Jim does it so well, but it's not the Ward we've been living with for an hour. That kind of expression didn't even occur to men."

With only 21 days to shoot, Haywood-Carter obviously had to make certain adjustments, yet without the help of her friend, casting director Deborah Aquila, she wouldn't have gotten the actors she wanted. Fortunately, Savannah is mostly stuck in time, so you're looking at what's there and avoiding the modern touches that don't belong. The marsh is exquisitely powerful: like visiting another world. 

Cinematographer Mike Ozier ("Bottle Shock") shot digitally with the Red two years ago, but Haywood-Carter wasn't entirely pleased with the camera. "It does really well with interiors and night but not as well with daytime exteriors, so I did some VFX to put clouds in the sky. So much of the film is out on the river and is supposed to be magical and there were times when I was disappointed that I couldn't get the sky or the reflections. But I needed multiple cameras and didn't want to lose time reloading.

"It also took a lot of work in the editing room to weave another timeline in the movie as sparsely as we did. The camera has to pull you back away from these two individuals and then drop you into the next group with an emotional connection that's subliminal. That was one of the great joys for me."

But Haywood-Carter is hooked on indies after jump-starting her career: She's living in New York and currently in pre-production on a romantic comedy with a group of young filmmakers that has her rejuvenated. She's not about to be trapped in time like Allen.

This article is related to: Jim Caviezel, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Immersed In Movies

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.