Ana’s Playground, a short film about children living in armed conflict has been accepted to screen at the 25th annual Santa Barbara Film Festival. Ana’s Playground will screen twice – once as part of Shorts Program One on Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 9:30 p.m. at Victoria Hall and again (Shorts Program One) on Tuesday, February 9 at 10 a.m. at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Producers Mary Jo Howell, Jean Johnson and Bruce Johnson will join writer-director Eric Howell at both screenings and are available for interviews to discuss the film.
Since its release in September, Ana’s Playground has won top honors at the Norwich, New Hampshire, Cenflo and Foyle film festivals, including a ‘Best of the Festival’ and an Academy Qualifying win for the 2010 nomination cycle.
Set in a non-specific, war-torn country, Ana’s Playground is an examination of children living and dying in a world of armed combat. Told through the eyes of 11 year-old Ana, the story opens on a group of children playing soccer surrounded by the signs of conflict. When their soccer ball is kicked into a sniper zone, Ana is sent in to retrieve it. Once inside, a dangerous game of cat and mouse ensues, as Ana becomes the sniper’s target. Connected through the power of sport, the characters all listen to the same professional soccer game which plays in the background. Viewers will be kept guessing as to how the story will reach its ultimate conclusion — will their games end up in harmony or tragedy?
“Ana’s Playground is an allegory about the moment a child is forced to choose between humanity and ideology,” said filmmaker Eric Howell. “The film is not a political statement about a particular war or conflict, instead it directly examines the delicate nature of a child’s humanity and how the world at large is connected to and responsible for preserving it.”
The objective of Ana’s Playground is to raise awareness about how war and violence affect children by communicating with the largest audience possible. There’s also an opportunity to provide information about organizations working to improve the lives of children living in violent conditions.
“Ana’s Playground powerfully communicates the effects of armed conflict on children trying to play” said Johann Koss, president and CEO of Right to Play. “The film’s conclusion will resonate with viewers leaving behind a powerful message audiences will be unable to forget.”
Raven Bellefleur, an eleven year-old actress plays Ana, leading an all-Minnesotan cast, and producers Marsha Trainer and Jillian Nodland worked hard to pull together and organize resources to shoot the film in one cold November week in the Twin Cities.
With a background that demonstrates a balance of studio films and independents, writer-director Eric Howell is on a mission to raise awareness for short films, as well as the plight of war-affected children around the globe. Early in his career, Howell developed his directing skills by working as a stuntman/coordinator on numerous feature films including North Country, Joe Somebody, Fargo and A Simple Plan as well as hundreds of TV commercials and music videos. Howell has directed several short films as well as various episodic television projects. He continues to work in the industry writing and developing his own material.
“Our hope is that Ana’s Playground will entice audiences to explore more of the exceptional film work being done in the short film category,” said Howell. “Short films are covering ambitious subject matter and the quality of the final product looks like what audiences expect from feature-length films. Short films have simply never had the same kind of exposure. So we’ll continue to get the word out and let more people in on the secret.”
The filmmakers are interested in partnering with corporations, foundations and individuals who can help sponsor Ana’s Playground at film festivals and screening events to help audiences learn more about war-affected children and organizations helping them.
Production of Ana’s Playground was made possible entirely through charitable donations. George Lucas’s Skywalker Sound provided all sound engineering post-production; and the Coen brothers’ latest production A Serious Man donated much of the physical set support. A long list of other industry insiders also shows up in the film’s credits.
Ana’s Playground won “Best International Short Film” at the 2009 Foyle Film Festival in Northern Ireland (a 2010 Oscars-qualifying film festival), “Best Short Drama” at the 2009 New Hampshire Film Festival, “Best Short Film” and “Best of Fest” at the 2009 Norwich International Film Festival (Norwich, England) and ‘Best Short Film” at the Cenflo Film Fest. Ana’s Playground is based on a script that also won the best screenplay award at the 2006 Los Angeles International Short Film Festival.