Essential: Works is an interview format that Directors Library regularly hosts with film and video Directors. We ask directors to name three key and influential works under the film, campaign and music video categories. The series aims to broaden horizons of reference and acknowledge works from the back catalogue.
For our seventh instalment, we got in touch with Savanah Leaf →.
You can check out one of Savanah’s recent films below and other work on the link →.
The Ayes Have It – Motion Poems
Directed by Savanah Leaf →
Below are Savanah’s picks and what she had to say:
Essential: Films – Savanah Leaf
If there was a common thread in the films I like to watch, I think it would be ‘painfully honest stories’. This sometimes takes form in comedies, and at other times takes form in tragedies. But each time they resonate with me because they speak to human truths that often times in regular life I try to ignore or hide from. In that way, they also challenge the viewer and make them question what they know and what they believe.
1. Rashomon (1950)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa →
This might be my favorite. There is something really strong about how it makes the audience be a participant in the film. It challenges you as the audience to make decisions, and to reflect on your judgement of the characters in a way I’ve never seen in film before. I’ve read the script a ridiculous amount of times and it never gets boring.
2. The Tribe (2014)
Directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi →
This film is another favorite. I’m fascinated how as the audience, you can feel so much and connect with the characters, without hearing one word of dialog, or seeing any subtitles. When I first watched this it really expanded my mind, especially when writing, because it was when I realized the importance of body language, movement, and sound design (or the absence of it) to help create the emotional journey of characters.
3. Your Name (2016)
Directed by Makoto Shinkai →
I’ve been watching this film quite a lot recently. I absolutely love animation, it makes dreams feel more tangible. In this film in particular, the moments that are surreal make the pain and suffering of the characters easier to grasp. The camera movements and color are otherworldly. It’s creatively inspiring in terms of filmmaking, nothing feels impossible — they can push the camera through walls and have the camera circle around one person then fly into the universe then come back down in a different time and space. It just makes me think, what if I could do that with live action? Realistically I can’t, but this film definitely challenges me to push the boundaries.
Honorable Mention: Tillsammans (Together) – One of my mentors showed me this film. It’s just so honest and relatable with a simple plot and one main location. It’s a great, accessible way of commenting on social experiences and politics. I slid this one in here because it’s a little different, and I love how, again, it gets the audience involved in the film.
Essential: Music Videos – Savanah Leaf
With music videos, I’m generally either drawn to videos that are extremely technically sound, or videos that have a sort of abstract concept but are grounded in emotional truths. Or hopefully both. And the track also has to be interesting otherwise I’ll switch it off within 10 seconds. So the following videos are a great combination of the two.
1. Michael Kiwanuka – Black Man in a White World (2016)
Directed by Hiro Mirai →
Simple, beautiful, and extremely well executed I love watching music videos that are really technically sound. It’s an added bonus when it’s about something I care about as well.
2. Raffertie – Build Me Up (2013)
Directed by Vincent Haycock
I really like this video because it mixes these surreal moments that are grounded in emotion, with this documentary-style of storytelling. I think its all-around strong.
3. Chase & Status – Blind Faith (2011)
Directed by Daniel Wolfe
Love how honest this video is. We rarely have good budgets for music videos, and this reminds me of what’s important — telling a story. And that doesn’t always have to be a narrative story when making a music video, but people should be able to take something away and feel like they’ve gone on some sort of journey with you.
Essential: Commercials – Savanah Leaf
I’ve never had a TV, so didn’t watch many commercials until recently. I really like the following recent commercials for similar reasons — powerful storytelling.
1. Just Do It: Caster Semenya – Nike (2018)
Directed by AJ Rojas →
Coming from a sports background, I love watching an inspiring sports story. And I mean Semenya is incredible and her story is powerful! This piece was beautifully executed. The script feels honest, and you get a sense of empowerment at the end. I love that.
2. Reverse – Merck For Mothers (2018)
Directed by Spencer Creigh →
I just saw this spot quite recently, and it really touched me. The camera work compliments the story well — it feels observational, almost as if the camera wasn’t actually there. And the dialog is strong!
3. Elena Fedoseeva Never Asks – Nike (2018)
I love the textures in this spot — you can feel how the lead character experiences life.