Danielle Levy (’16) spent her Friday morning making forty pancakes from scratch and the rest of the day shooting her short film, “Anthem,” on Marshall Field. Her pancakes functioned as a thank you for her volunteer cast, who roughed it through a rainy softball game and left covered with grass stains. While studying film at Sarah Lawrence, Levy says she realized that the biggest thing she has learned is “how integral everyone’s role is in achieving the entire work.” It shows.
“Anthem” is based on a poem Levy wrote her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence. Now a sophomore, she’s adapted it into a screenplay and has started the filming process. Levy lists Stanley Kubrick, Wong Kar-Wai, Sofia Coppola, Richard Linklater, Jean Renoir, Sam Mendes and Joe Wright as her favorite directors and says “Anthem” is her most experimental project yet.
“It addresses the themes of nostalgia you experience when you’re young enough to miss something, but old enough to still be able to return to it,” Levy explains. “That feeling can be almost transcendental and euphoric, but also very bittersweet.”
Levy gravitates towards visually driven films where language is not the dominant medium and where imagery plays the strongest role. This focus stems from the film that caused her to pursue filmmaking.
“I realized I wanted to work in film when I was fourteen and I saw The Diving Bell and The Butterfly,” says Levy, “I felt so moved by the story and the way the film was made. I felt that if someone who does not speak my language and lives in another country can make me feel these intimate and powerful emotions – that’s just an incredible and awesome thing. It inspired me to want to do the same by creating artful films that can hopefully influence someone who is not immediately connected to my life.”
“I’m a firm believer,” says Levy, “that the best way to convey emotion is through art. Whether it is poetry or film, people get a better sense of what you are thinking and feeling through an alternative depiction of it that is not verbal communication.”
Originally from Houston, Texas, Levy opted out of attending film school, choosing instead to attend a liberal arts college for its excess of other disciplines. “I wanted the breadth of a liberal arts education to inspire me and give me things to write films about. Sarah Lawrence gives me more of base to work off of when I approach my art.”
Levy says that the film department at Sarah Lawrence offers depth and allows students to “get their hands dirty” in filmmaking. At schools with a more traditional structure than Sarah Lawrence, filmmaking students would have to go through intro classes and become upperclassmen before being able to be as hands-on.
Last semester, Levy was in Misael Sanchez’s cinematography class, where students re-directed scenes from famous films to learn composition and lighting within a common frame of reference. Levy recreated scenes from The Virgin Suicides and Sunset Boulevard.
Currently, Levy is writing a feature length film based on her great-grandfather’s experience as an elevator boy in a hotel that became the Nazi headquarters in Bucharest, Romania. “I interviewed him over spring break to conduct more research and explain the project to him in person,” says Levy. The screenplay for the film is her conference project this semester. “In the fall of my freshman year,” explains Levy, “I worked on creating a visual color palette, score, ambiance, aesthetic and hashing out the narrative structure. Now it’s all coming into fruition in terms of a screenplay.”
Next year, Levy is going abroad. “I’m spending the fall in Granada, Spain,” says Levy, where she plans to take international and Spanish studies. Her spring semester of 2015 will be spent in London, England. “My ambition while I’m in England is to professionally and creatively enter a more international film market.”
“My more long term ambition in life,” explains Levy, “is to open a production company that celebrates director driven work with a really strong focus on collaboration between the key creative positions that it takes to make a film.” That is the long term plan. Short term, says Levy, is “to make artful films that can impact people, first in my community and ultimately that move and connect people on a global scale.”
by Sarah McEachern '17
photos by Anna Ilina '15