“Savannah” — a lush new feature film

Click here for my Sunday City Talk column at SavannahNow, half of which is devoted to last Monday’s screening of the feature film Savannah.

Here I’ll add a few details and thoughts to that column.

I found producer John Cay’s opening remarks quite moving — and even moreso because he spoke so briefly. His father Jack did the original research on Ward Allen, a Savannahian who preferred hunting ducks to the trappings of the wealth into which he had been born. Still, Allen could never quite shake his proper boarding school education — and he used it in court and in a handful of eloquent editorials (the total sum of his writing is hard to grasp from the film) about the threats that increasing bureaucracy and industrialization could pose.

As Cay noted in his opening remarks, Jack presented that research to Savannah’s elite Madeira Club back in the middle of the last century. I’m afraid I was the only one who chuckled when Cay called referred to it as a “literary” group. Of course, wine and literature go together very well. That paper became a book: Ward Allen: Savannah River Market Hunter, published in Savannah by Pigeonhole Press in 1958.

Right after Jack Cay’s funeral in the late 80s, John ran into Gordon Varnedoe, who told John that his father was such a character that he deserved more of a remembrance than the funeral service.

So that set wheels in motion that resulted more than two decades later in Annette-Haywood Carter and Ken Carter writing the script for Savannah, with Haywood-Carter directing. In my column, I mention some of the big stars (Jim Caviezel, Sam Shepard, Jaimie Alexander, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jack McBrayer, and Hal Holbrook), but I didn’t say anything about the locations. And that’s one of the interesting elements: maybe because the film’s writers, producers, and director were all local people, Savannah doesn’t go out of its way to show set pieces of our glorious architecture. I spotted some exteriors on Chippewa Square; the Customs House is pretty obvious in a couple of scenes; and the classy and classic bar at Circa 1875 is perfect in a couple of scenes. But the vast majority of the film takes place either inside or outside — on the marshes and waterways.

I’m not going to include spoilers here, but the film was darker in its themes than I expected. And that’s a good thing. There are some deeply sad elements to Ward Allen’s story — and to the story of Christmas Moultrie, the last child born into slavery at Mulberry Grove Plantation and later Allen’s hunting friend and assistant. The multi-layered narrative doesn’t shy from those dark moments.

Here’s the marketing trailer released last year (I’m assuming we’ll get a new trailer and a sense of timing of a release soon):

Again, there’s more in my City Talk column.

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