A private message arrived from local actress (and new Facebook friend) Caroline Amiguet asking that I attend this Friday’s screening of her husband Matt Sivertson’s first feature, Love All You Have Left, in which she stars. The film’s logline was just cause for a neck-corkscrewing double-take: “Distraught after the death of her young daughter, Juliette discovers a girl claiming to be Anne Frank in her attic.”
Anne Frank trapped in an attic, with so much sunshine to spare in San Diego? The skeptic in me envisioned shots of Anne & Co. strolling through the zoo and stopping by Sea World to leave a rock on the late Tilikum’s watery headstone. Clearly Caroline and Matt don’t read my stuff; if they did, they would never have asked a Holocaust film–denying soul such as myself to help promote their project.
No one was more surprised than I to have made it to the final fade-out.
Were it up to me, first-time filmmakers would be given $100,000, a camera, and instructions to use their imagination and make a silent movie. The point being, if they can’t tell a story in pictures and without special effects, they don’t deserve the millions studios will fork over for the extraneous bits. Sivertson opens his film on a waist-high shot of a mother, father, and their young daughter exiting the house. Before closing the door behind them, the child turns and shoots the audience a smile. After a beat, the door opens and in walk the parents dressed in black, no child in sight. Within less than 20 seconds, and without one word, without one schmaltzy violin strain, the stage is set. .
It’s two hours after the Facebook message arrived and I’m on the phone congratulating our local cinematic power couple. Born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Matt Sivertson and his family moved to Clairemont when he was five. By day a software architect at Intuit, Sivertson and his wife of nine years reside in Pacific Beach. (A commercial shoot prevented Caroline from being on the extension for the interview. Expect a followup interview with her on “The Big Screen.”)
Love All You Have Left screens this Friday at 7 p.m. at MoPA’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theatre. Admission is $5–$7. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit eventbrite.com.
Scott Marks: Love All You Have Left originally began its life on the stage.
Matt Sivertson: It was originally a screenplay, but I had never really made a movie before. Caroline is in this San Diego theatre group called the Poolhouse Project, and they were looking for scripts for stage readings. I suggested that they convert this into a play, thinking, We’ll do it there just to see how it works. That’s where the play came from. So it was a screenplay that became a play before being made into a movie.
SM: This is your first film as a director, but not the first film you’ve been involved in. You’ve produced prior to this.
MS: My wife and I did a short about four or five years ago called Just Desserts. That was my first time ever on a film set. Caroline is a really good actress, but she has an accent and finding roles, particularly leading roles, can sometimes be hard for her. Most American films don’t star people with accents.
I was always pushing her. Equipment keeps getting cheaper all the time.… We know some people, so I would say, “If you want a role, let’s create one for you and do it!” That was our first foray into filmmaking....
SM: Where did the idea of resurrecting Anne Frank to help a woman deal with the loss of her daughter come from?
MS: There was an indie band in the ’90s called Neutral Milk Hotel. They released this album Aeroplane Over the Sea that contained a lot of references to Anne Frank. I thought that was interesting. I was reading an interview with the songwriter in which he said he never read The Diary of Anne Frank when he was in school. Unlike most people, he read it when he was an adult. He mentioned that he kept having these dreams about her, to the point it was almost like he was being haunted by Anne Frank. I began wondering what that would be like.
One day I turned to Caroline and said, “What do you think of a setup for a film where there’s this woman who hears noises in her attic and she goes up and discovers a girl who says she’s Anne Frank living there?” Caroline was, like, “Write that!”
SM: While opening up the play for the screen, did the thought of a scene showing Anne in contemporary society ever cross your mind?
MS: It did. I think it’s an interesting concept having this woman discover Anne Frank. It’s kind of a mystery, because at first you don’t know if it’s her or not her or what’s going on. Part of the goal for me was… When you read The Diary of Anne Frank, she gets captured and it just ends at the last entry. There is no real conclusion to it. I wanted to give her a different ending. The idea of bringing her to modern times, getting her out of being in hiding, and bringing her into a comfortable society was also something I was interested in.
SM: This is basically a two-hander and much of its success hinges on the women you get to inhabit these characters. Being married to a terrific actress made the casting of Juliette a breeze, but where did you find your Anne Frank, Sara Wolfkind?
MS: I did not know her at all before this. We hosted auditions on the film community Facebook page. She showed up and nailed it.
SM: It’s seemingly a very difficult role to pull off — particularly when you call upon Anne to read her own diary. You pull it off by playing it straight, with no irony or knowing winks at the camera. What’s the one mistake that you learned while making Love All You Have Left that you won’t make next time you assume the director’s chair?
MS: The way we did it, we had to shoot entirely on weekends. There were only 15 actual shoot days, but it was spread out over the course of months. At the end of it, I took all the footage and began to edit it. If I could do it all over again, after every weekend, I would have just edited as I went along. Then I could have seen how things were coming together and how things might have played a bit differently. Maybe go back and do some reshoots of things I wasn’t super happy with. If I could [have taken] two weeks and shot it continuously, I would love that. But if I can’t, I think it would be to my advantage to edit as I go.