Always proud when a worthwhile film, no matter how short or small, makes its way out of the frozen tundra of Minneapolis. Especially when said film is not only a magnificent watch, but also supports a good cause and delivers a message without being ham fisted. Quite the opposite actually. Ana’s Playground is a 20 minute short, sculpted so carefully that while it tackles the social injustice of children involved in armed combat, it never delves into a specific territory, conflict or racial divide. Rather, the film keeps it attention on where it should: the effect and involvement of children during armed conflict; using an unknown, war torn location and even going so far as the utilization of a made up language.
The locale is key. Since the actual city is never specifically mentioned, this could be any war torn city in the heart of chaos. It’s reminiscent of an Eastern European city that we’ve seen in many a film, but keeping the actual name from us leaves it more internal and possibly even relatable. The story depicts a group of children playing soccer (also a key instrument of storytelling as this is probably the world’s most popular sport (especially in Europe)) in the street. Forced to dodge tanks and machine gun fire rather than the usual passing sedan we might see in any typical American suburb, one of the children finds herself in the heart of no man’s land when their ball accidentally goes over the dividing wall. As children often do, ignoring the consequences, young Ana cautiously takes her time exploring the area and scavenging for food before retrieving their soccer ball. Suddenly the whiz of a bullet zips by her ear before an eruption of sniper fire rips from a nearby high rise. Now Ana is caught in a cat and mouse survival game with an unknown assailant. What makes the plot work, beyond the edge of your seat intensity is the intertwining of blunt social commentary twisted into the action effectively and with quality, but without being heavy handed.
Since its September release, the film has been receiving rave reviews and loads of festival awards just about everywhere it goes (including top honors for Best Live Action Short Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, 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) – and it’s easy to see why. Director Eric Howell has crafted a film that is amazingly well shot, has great set design, fast paced action (dare I say Hurt Locker-esque?), something meaningful to say (and said well) and the capper is its unique way of being relevant to all.
The film was funded entirely by donation and necessities were provided by countless organizations in and around the Twin Cities, MN area. Focus Features pitched in quite a bundle of scratch, Skywalker Sound did all of the post sound-engineering work and The Coen Brothers themselves provided a lot of the physical set pieces. Sorry, but if they’re behind this endeavor, so should we be.
The film has helped raise awareness and funds throughout the world to children involved with armed conflict and brought people closer together. The proceeds and leftovers from the production (including loads of soccer equipment and hundreds of jerseys) have been donated to various organizations around the globe. You can read a lot more about the film and its endeavors by heading over to AnasPlayground.com. Unfortunately the film isn’t available for viewing yet online, but it’s still making its way through the festival circuit, so you might look for it there. There is a nice looking trailer available however and I’ve stuck it below the seats. Have a look and seek out this quality short film if ever and whenever you can.