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Eric D. Howell: Director, Ana’s Playground

February 17, 2013

images (2)1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of ANA’S PLAYGROUND, from concept to financing.

It started as a writing experiment. I didn’t want to use any dialogue in the film and was trying to play with the empathy of the audience. Soon I discovered that the story was a provocative piece that could be an effective tool.  At that point I made a very clear mission statement: I set out to make a film that would reach the broadest audience possible, to raise the most amount of awareness about children affected by war & violence, and the organizations working to improve their lives.  The entire production was made possible through charitable cash and in-kind donations made to our fiscal sponsor IFP Minnesota.  Screening rights of the film are being offered to non-profit organizations working to help children living in violent conditions.

2Q: It appears that the film has been screened at numerous other festivals; how has it been received? Do audiences respond differently at some festivals than they do at others?
So far we’ve won top honors at several festivals (including an Academy qualifier and a Best of the Fest).  Audience reaction has been consistent domestically and internationally.  Whether screening in Northern Ireland, Nassau, or New Hampshire, people are connecting with the message of how a child’s humanity is affected by violence – it’s a very universal theme. While screening at the Santa Barbara [festival] we actually had someone scream during a tense moment in the film – I loved it!

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making ANA’S PLAYGROUND?

My best experience was working with the family that makes up a film crew.  Seeing each one of them transform words on a page into things like a set, a character, a hairstyle, an image, or a piece of music is the best part of being a director.  Watching an audience react in a dark room is the pinnacle of all of that effort. Luckily we as humans tend to forget the worst experiences. Maybe the worst thing I can remember is how miserably cold it was during production.  However – because it was so cold the actor’s faces became flush red, which in turn allowed me to desaturate the image – leaving the actors looking natural while the world around them lost color.  Even the bad things ended up being magical on this project.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

‘Ana’s Playground’ is a complete cinematic experience within the short film format. One which I feel brings the audience to an empathetic understanding of its subject.  It is an experience – not a lecture – and it is truly engaging.

5Q: You have quite the resume filled with stunts and special effects on some well known films.  What brings you to the world of short films and directing?  What are the pros and cons of making a short and getting it out there for people to see?

Stunt performing/coordinating has allowed me to work closely with amazing directors and actors, and this experience represents my film school. Mastering short film is my step towards making quality feature films.  My hope is that people will see what I can do with 20 minutes and want more.  The hardest part is that short films have limited resources – therefore the filmmaker ends up wearing many hats long after the film has been completed.  Making ‘Ana’s Playground’ was a monumental task – and it was nothing compared to getting the movie seen by the general public! If you’re reading this and you like the film, please find ‘Ana’s Playground’ on Facebook and Twitter – I need all the help I can get!

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