Interview with Filmmaker Anna Sesia (SINGLE)

SINGLE was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the May 2021 FEMALE Feedback Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

2020 lockdown surprised me in the country, as I was driving from Rome where I live, to Milan where I had left my dog, to go to the Berlinale.I didn’t get to Milan, I stopped halfway for the night and ended up staying in the country, completely alone, for almost 4 months! My nearest neighbours were at around 6 km and I didn’t even have the internet for the first 3 weeks! Despite the great anguish of each night when the covid deaths were counted, it was clear for me that I had to react , and that I wouldn’t let the pandemic and the lockdown deplete me. So I decided that this period, where all previous plans and projects fell apart, would became very creative for me.

All of a sudden I had an ocean of time in front of me, like an empty canvas. On the verge of psychoses and hallucinations, many “characters” just came to “visit “me and told me part of their stories, some kind of problem they were involved with, and I wrote them down on a piece of paper. I didn’t know I’d do a short film. The character in Single is the one that came to me with less clarity, like a fragment of a dream. I just knew a drunk lady was coming back alone at home on new year’s eve, and her dog advises her to find someone to date online.

I am mainly an actress and I’m used to work with improvisations. I like this method because it allows surprising information to come out, in unpredictable and non linear ways, but still deeply logical because from an organic source. I used this method also in the writing process, to fill in the gaps of information in order to create a fuller story. In the improvs, I found out that this character had lost someone dear , but who was still present in her heart, although not there anymore, a presence/absence she lived with. So I found out a very pure and secret aspect of her character, she lived a very spiritual dimension of love in a very materialistic world, and then her name came to me: Virginia. The improvs went on and I found out many more aspects of the character’s social life, the way she spoke, her idiosyncrasies, her relationship to her dog and to her friends etc. After a week I had a small script of 4-5 pages.
When in the summer I was finally free to move , I decided to shoot two stories of 2 different characters, the simplest ones, that I could shoot in my home, since because of covid laws, almost everything was still forbidden. I needed some action, after 4 months of hermitting amongst leaves ,sky , wind and birds. But I gave myself the freedom as a storyteller to continue to find out Virginia’s story as I was shooting it (we shot the whole film in 3 hours), and some things, like the drunk howling at the moon at the end, were not in the script, but came on the set with an improv.
While I was editing, I realised that I was more interested in telling a story, than in showing a character, and I had to leave out some of the best scenes and takes, some of them very funny and mean, some very touching, which for my actress was painful. I put together what was technically possible and what made a thread that had a logic in the storytelling and kept it short. Then, as my film is very minimal, I tried to compensate what was invisible , with sounds in sound postproduction, especially to give voice to the dog and to the friends ( which was a very fun and creative process).

So from the beginning, every problem or question that arose in the process became a motivation to explore more and find an answer.

However, the main motivation in my heart was to give voice and space to unconventional female characters. In the case of Virginia, what interested me mostly was to give space to very unconventional aspects of a quite conventional character, who seems to have a conventionally structured life…but only on the surface.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

From the first idea or image that came to me, It took me less than 1 week to write a script (which included the process of improvising to find out more about the story and writing down what I had discovered in the improvs). But then we were all blocked in lockdown for a few other months . When I could move and go back to the city, It took me 1 week to arrange a small crew, find a costume, makeup; 3 days to go to Milan and finally get my dog, the adorable Kashtan, my acting partner in Single; 3 hours to set up lights and 3 hours to shoot. 3 weeks to go through all the 3 hours of footage on my own and deciding I wanted to try to make it in a short film (going through the footage was very difficult for me as an actress I’m not used to seeing and choosing footage); 3 days to edit; 2 days for sound postproduction; 3 weeks to find the new music. But there were many long time lapses in between all working periods, because of the pandemic and because of my very tight budget, I had to wait sometimes months, that my team was free. Let’s say if the idea came to me in April 2020 and the script soon afterwards, the film was shot in 1 day at the end of June, but we started the editing in January 2021 and totally finished,( music, sound, subtitles etc) only in February 2021.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Desperate but funny. Minimal, romantic and ironic.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

I’ve had plenty of obstacles on the set, for example, it was 40 degrees celsius, extremely hot, and some lights went on fire!

However the hardest thing has been to change the first music I had chosen and edited with, in order to find a music I could afford the copyrights of, that would be cheap and right for my short film. My first 2 choices, Leonard Cohen’s ” Dance me to the end of love”, for the dance, and Dean Martin’s ” That’s amore” for the ending, seemed to me perfect : the first one fit exactly the excessive romantic mood of the character, and the second one, worked as a perfect counterpoint to Virginia’s desperate howling to the moon at the end, giving it a light ironic touch. When I decided to submit “Single” to festivals, of course I had to change the music. This choice was very difficult: the music in my short film wasn’t just a mood, but it was like a character and, changing it, changed the meaning too.
I don’t know how many hundreds of pieces of music I listened to on the music libraries! I couldn’t find anything that was right and so I thought ” My story is tragic but it’s funny” so I started to look at tangos, which are always desperate and emotionally excessive . At the end, the funny tango I chose for both moments is very beautiful but it doesn’t make that counterpoint effect that Dean Martin’s song had, so I added all the howling dogs of the neighbourhood to make my point, although this made the mood a little more gloomy. It’s a dark kind of humour.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I was so touched and so happy that my tiny minimal short film resonates with so many different people in different parts of the world. I was very touched and very inspired. I am very grateful to the audience and to the festival who gave me this opportunity. After a year of online everything, this feedback made me feel the audience as if we were in the same room! Wonderful!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

When I realized that there are so many things I see that I would like to share. SINGLE is my first short film. I still have much to learn!

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Kill Bill (Tarantino) ; Une femme est une femme (Godard); A bout de souffle ( Godard); 101 Dalmatians and Aristocats (Disney); Jeux Interdits ( René Clément); The wolves of wall street (Scorsese); A star is born ( Bradely Cooper); I Mostri (Dino Risi); The Mirror ( Tarkovsky) and so many others…!

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s great. It makes everything so much easier, faster and closer. It’s like having a team that is working for you!

9. What is your favourite meal?

Masala Dosa, with a dear friend, in a small restaurant on the road, in the south of India

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I am studying screenplay writing because I’m thinking of a trilogy of short films in 3 different parts of the world, connected to each other in some way. I hope to finish my project within 2022.

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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