Savanah Leaf’s stunning debut feature Earth Mama opens this year’s edition of New Directors / New Films, presented by Film at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. To coincide with the New York Premiere, we’re showing The Heart Stills Hums, the filmmaker’s earlier collaboration with Indie Spirit Award-nominated actor and filmmaker Taylor Russell. Both films concern the struggles of single mothers whose difficult situations betray their unconditional love for their children.
Nestled in passenger seats, Leaf and Russell follow five women around Sacramento, CA, as they discuss the pangs of young motherhood with members of charity organizations — Chicks in Crisis and Black Mothers United/HerHealthFirst — who provide emotional support and resources throughout. Building on these observational rhythms, the filmmakers invest themselves in the landscape surrounding these women, documenting ubiquitous freeways, diners, parking lots, and bird murmurations, in stark B&W 35mm. The melding of these two distinct approaches transform the documentary into a poetic feat wherein talking-points suffuse with potent images that lend them more weight.
“Love is abstract. It’s confusing to describe, hard to action and difficult to imagine. But when you think of a ‘mother’s love’, all of a sudden the word holds more weight and becomes more tangible. When you hear of a ‘mother’s love’, you think of your interactions with your own mother: strong, warm, soft, painful, intellectual, spiritual, absent, and attentive.” SAVANAH LEAF
An off-screen voice asks, “Are there any role models you had in your life when you were younger?” around the film’s midpoint. “Role models? I don’t know about role models” answers a mother. The evasive response echoes a lack of relatable Black female representation in the world. With her aim to “create a voice that feels emotionally resonant for women, and Black mothers, and Black women,” perhaps Leaf’s film can fill this void.
Savanah Leaf and Taylor Russell are two rising stars of the film world in their own right. Prior to filmmaking, Leaf excelled at volleyball and competed in the 2012 Olympics for host country Great Britain. Following a professional injury, she transitioned into directing music videos. Around the time her video for Gary Clark Jr.’s “This Land” was nominated for Best Music Video at the 2020 Grammys, The Heart Still Hums began garnering praise at festivals across the US and won Best Documentary Short at BlackStar Film Festival. Russell, a young Canadian actor and filmmaker, received a Best Supporting Female nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance in Trey Edward Shults’ Waves. Three years later, she would earn a Best Lead Performance nomination at the Spirit Awards and the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival for her role as a lovable cannibal opposite Timothée Chalamet in Bones and All.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.
- Credits for
- THE HEART STILL HUMS
- Chicks in Crisis (Inez Whitlow) & Black Mother’s United (Toni Johnson, Alicia, Tiffany, Jaunell, Bobbi, Becca, Angelyn, Megan, Savanah & Dr. Joyner)
- in association with
- Doomsday Ent. & Park Pictures
- executive produced by
- Savanah Leaf, Taylor Russell, Danielle Hinde, Jason Cole, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Sam Bisbee & Lance Acord
- co-produced by
- Danielle Massie
- Locan Triplett
- Dan de Winter
- Johnnie Burn