On March 15, 2020, the world came to a screeching halt. COVID-19 took our loved ones, our jobs, and in many cases, our lives. As we all quarantined in our homes, many of us feared what awaited us outside the comfort of our homes. But for many, inside the home was just as unsafe.
A Secondary Pandemic
In 2020, domestic violence cases rose over 33% percent worldwide. With no respite available outside the homespace and limited resources, intimate partner violence became a secondary pandemic that dovetailed the COVID-19 crisis, leaving millions of victims voiceless and helpless.
But a talented team of LSTFI alumni are changing that. Directed by Chantal Van Zyl and Executive Produced by Anysleigh Weller Haines, Beneath the Surface is a 2021 short film telling the true stories of seven women affected by domestic violence. Written and produced by Chantal, Aynsleigh, and fellow alumna Emily Hope, the film boasts an impressive cast and creative team made entirely of LSTFI-trained artists. The Beneath the Surface cast features Katerina Camejo (also the film’s fourth producer), Chantal Van Zyl, Elizabeth Sun, Emily Hope, Aynsleigh Weller Haines, Rayanna Griffith, and Paige Susan Anderson.
“It was during the beginning of the pandemic that I came together with my good friend Aynsleigh and we agreed that something had to be done about [it],” Emily Hope said of Beneath the Surface. “As the creators of this project it was our goal to raise awareness but also tell the true stories of women we know and give them a voice.”
Because domestic and intimate partner abuse can happen to anyone, the Beneath the Surface team felt it was important to cast an ensemble of actors who were representative of many different communities.
According to a study conducted by UN Women, “1 in 3 women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner.” And that only accounts for the experiences of ciswomen in heterosexual relationships. In the LGBTQIA+ community, these numbers climb ever higher and also saw a massive increase during the COVID-19 lockdown. It is believed that the cases of intimate partner or domestic violence are even higher because these numbers don’t account for the cases that go undocumented.
Working with Difficult Subject Matter
With the dark subject matter of Beneath The Surface and its unflinching look into the lives of victims, it can be easy for actors in rehearsal to get stuck in dark places and forget the play aspect of acting. Fortunately, with a strong team of supportive, Method-trained women at the project’s helm, the rehearsal room was a safe and loving environment. With everything shut down, “[rehearsals were] always something to look forward to and it was very clear to all of us that everyone was putting in the time and work to connect with themselves and the women who’s stories we were sharing,” said Emily.
“When I say Team Work Makes The Dream Work, I really mean it,” said Aynsleigh Weller Haines. “We were each other’s support network. And, sure, there were times we disagreed on some things, but ultimately it just made the choices even better in the end.”
“I relied completely on the Method during the entire process,” said Chantal Van Zyl. “The preparation we learn in the Method is what supported me during my roles as director and actor. I was so occupied as director on set and executing my vision while actively working with the other actors, that there was no time to be anything less than fully prepared for my acting role and being ready to pull from all my emotions and preparation when the time came.”
The best advice Emily had for fellow actors is “do the work. It’s messy and confusing but that is all part of the process. Learn to trust yourself and to let go, because once you have done the work and you are prepared – letting go is the way to find all the qualities in which you and the person you are portraying become one.”
Katerina Camejo said, “Have fun! And know your place. I think being aware of your surroundings on set when the cameras are off and being aware of the dynamics are important but I also think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously.”
Up Next for Beneath the Surface
So what is next for Beneath The Surface? The film is currently making its rounds through the film festival circuit. Recently, Beneath the Surface was an official selection at the Golden Short Film Festival, the Independent Short Short Awards, and the Indie Short Fest in Los Angeles. At the latter most festival, the film won both the Outstanding Achievement Award for Women Short and the Outstanding Achievement Award for Ensemble Cast.
To see more news and praise for Beneath The Surface, you can follow them on social media @beneaththesurfacethefilm.