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An Interview with Anna Sesia, Director of Single

Please tell us about your background. What made you fall in love with cinema? How did you become interested in filmmaking and what did you work on before making Single?

I’m an actress, I have studied acting and theatre and worked professionally as an actress (mainly in theatre with some great theatre directors) in many different countries ( Moscow, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Bali, N.Y.). But I have always been interested in stories, especially in the hidden ones. Cinema has the capacity to enhance reality: through frames, light, close ups, music, editing… to manipulate it and reveal secrets, like all story telling. It has the capacity to bring you in someone else’s world, maybe it will make you identify with some aspect of that story or of the characters. This shortens the distance between people, creating a better understanding of that world and of ourselves. I’m also always interested in the relationship between subjective and objective : how characters perceive themselves and their world and how someone from the outside might perceive the same thing very differently. I love at least duality, but the more points of view, the better. I fell in love with cinema watching some old classic films, like Bergman’s “Persona”, where there were some incredible long close-ups on Liv Ullman and Bibi Anderson, but also Cassavete’s films, Godard’s “A bout de souffle” or Quentin Tarantino’s “kill Bill” as well as De Sica’s “Miracle in Milan”, Sergio Leone’s “Once upon a time in America”, or all Hollywood’s musicals and Disney’s great animated feature films.

I became interested in filmmaking in the moment I realised the incredibly rich range of possibilities cinema offers to storytelling. As an actress I always have many fragments of characters’ stories going on in my mind, and during the big 2020 lockdown where I was totally hermitting for 4 months, I jotted them down. The story of Virginia, in Single, is one of these stories. I didn’t have in mind to make a short film, but just to explore a story. The idea of a short film came gradually, mainly to get out of the great paralysis caused by the lockdown. Single is my first film (and almost zero budget), and as a first time director I realise that I have used very few of the most elementary tools cinema offers, but I was still able to experience their power.

What, in your opinion, is the most important quality of a film?

I think the most important thing in a film is to tell a good story, letting the audience enter and experience another world. Which ever means a director uses in order to achieve this, is ok. Cinema is a multi sensorial system, where the eye sight is dominant. The choice of the frames and the lighting are paramount, but as an actress, acting is the tool I know best.

What are the themes/issues you try to reflect in your films?

In general I am interested in unconventional female characters, who have a hard time fitting in a role.

In Single I was exploring a female character that seems to have a very conventional life, but she has a whole inner world that is very private. So it’s a story about somebody who’s trying hard to conform, but just can’t, because the unconscious forces that drive her, take her in a different direction. I was interested in exploring what Jung calls the shadow, those things, thoughts or emotions that we lock up so they won’t bother us, but which come out of our “closet” upsetting our plans. In the case of Virginia , this is triggered by a person who died: but her connection to him hasn’t. So I was interested in these two different levels of her life, how she copes with them etc, and which at the end is more real, finding out that the invisible level was the strongest and the most real. That is why she lives more in the realm of animals ( her dog, the neighbourhood dogs , herself howling- of course she’s also drunk)

Where did the idea for the film come from? How long did it take to get formed into what it is now?

The idea of Single came to me as a flash: a woman comes home alone on New Year’s Eve, and her dog tells her to find a date online; she tries, but she’s faced with small “big” obstacles and she doesn’t follow through. But I didn’t know why Virginia was acting that way:in order to write the second part of the script I had to find out her hidden story through improvisations: that’s how I discovered that she can’t find a date because she’s still deeply connected to a person , a foreigner, someone from far away ( she speaks English to him), who is no more.

How difficult is it to direct a film and act in it? Do you follow a certain approach or creative process to achieve a balance in both of these roles?

Well, as a director, I worked before shooting, figuring out and explaining to the crew the “what it’s about” and having them tune in. And then I worked after, in the editing room and sound post production. On the set I gave myself as an actress the permission to improvise, because I trusted my actress’s skills, having a long experience with improvisations, not to l. The hardest part was being the producer and the actress on the set. As a producer I had a thousand of small and big problems to solve ( including a fire in the apartment) and was constantly worried , but determined to pull it through. At the end we had 3-4 hours to shoot and we managed to finish all with many different variations, because of the improvisations, so the choice in the editing room was very difficult. More than once, as a director I chose to service the story over the acting.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of independent filmmaking and working with small budgets? Does it liberate the filmmaker or limit his or her freedom?

I have never worked with a big studio: “Single” is my first time directing a very low budget film!😂 As a producer it definitely is very difficult to have a small budget. As a director too, in an environment that is very cynical, if you have almost zero budget it is more difficult to inspire people and have them trust you. You also have to accept many limits, starting from time, equipment, camera, lights, the location etc. But then I was my own boss, so within all the limits that I had , I was free to make my choices. It has been especially difficult for the music because I couldn’t afford the rights of the first music that I had chosen, which in my opinion was perfect; so I then worked 3 weeks to find another music, which also changed the semantics of the film. Music is not just a decoration; in this case it was meaningful and in one scene it was structural.

When you are on a tight budget, you realise more than ever that time is money! I was lucky to get some help from friends and professionals, but how can you ask so much on a low budget? Things move very slowly, because everybody is juggling between different jobs and sometimes I had to wait for entire months! As an actress the only reason (except for the pay check!) I felt the need for a bigger budget was so we could afford a costume designer and a better costume!

Tell us about your festival run. Have film festivals provided you with the experience and exposure you needed?

I am very happy, humbled and surprised that so many different people in different cultures in very different parts of the world connected to the story. Each time the film wins an award I feel very touched and grateful. The film started its’ run in march and so far has won 23 awards, which is really overwhelming for me, considering that it’s a very small film, made almost out of nothing! The best festivals have been the ones that give you the most feedback: because of the pandemic all the screenings are online, so I miss the communication with the audience.

What was the reaction of those who watched your film? Was the feedback what you hoped for?

Most people who watched Single were very touched, laughed and cried, as it is a dark comedy. Many people have asked me to make a mini series with that character.

I didn’t have any expectations sending the film out: I was just curious, I have received more than I could have imagined and I feel very grateful. But I will not for the time being make a sequel or a series because I have a different story and project on my mind.

Please tell us about your future project(s). What are you working on?

I am working on a triptych of 3 short films on a similar theme, in a similar location, but in 3 different parts of the world. I’d be the writer of the story but I’d direct and act only in one episode, having the other two episodes directed by 2 other directors. I would like to have a bigger production.


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