Below you’ll find the first of an upcoming series by Drink in the Movies own Anna Harrison in which she provides a capsule review of Oscar Qualifying Short Films. Alina won the Oscar-qualifying Award at Bengaluru International Short Film Festival. Remember to keep an eye out in the coming weeks for her correlating interviews and capsule reviews!
Alina wastes little time with its opening as viewers are thrust into the middle of a Nazi raid in the Warsaw Ghetto, surrounded by shouting and gunshots. At only 25 minutes long, the film has no time to waste: director Rami Kodeih immediately signals the stakes through rapid-fire editing (Kodeih served as editor and producer as well) and expert deployment of Zoë Keating’s cello-filled score, its staccato notes matching the frenetic cuts as Alina (Alia Shawkat) rushes to smuggle another woman’s child out of the ghetto. Kodeih knows when to pull back as well and let the camera linger, building a different kind of tension that is no less effective.
The film highlights the unswerving bravery of a group of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and focuses on the titular character rather than wallowing in the atrocities of the Nazis who follow her—though it certainly shows us their casual cruelty throughout, especially in a memorable scene where one officer forces Alina to remove her bra. Alina is the driving force behind the film, and Alia Shawkat plays her well, though viewers are left to fill in the gaps about her past and motivations. The other characters largely feel stock, though the film is so short that it would be hard to give everyone in-depth development. Still, even with these flaws, Alina remains a tight, stirring portrayal of heroism in the face of danger, elevated by its technical aspects rather than its script.
Below you’ll find the first of an upcoming series by Drink in the Movies’ own Anna Harrison in which she performs interviews with the filmmakers behind select Oscar Qualifying Short Films. Alina won the Oscar-qualifying Award at Bengaluru International Short Film Festival. Remember to keep an eye out in the coming weeks for her correlating interviews and capsule reviews!
Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?
Nora, our screenwriter, first told me about the idea around February 2016. Her passion for this story was infectious, and we started doing research together on the subject and exchanging ideas. It took us time to find the right partners and to put together the resources to film. We ultimately premiered ALINA in late 2019 in England and are very thankful to have shared the film with over 180 festivals so far. It’s been mostly a virtual experience due to COVID, but the film programmers and audiences have truly been wonderful and encouraging across the board during this challenging time for everyone.
Were there any major script changes from conception to end?
Nothing major, but we did end up cutting a scene before filming to better accommodate the shooting schedule and constraints, which ended up being better for the overall tension-building of the story.
I’m from Atlanta, so I couldn’t help but noticing the “Atlanta Theatre Club presents” at the beginning of the film. How did they contribute?
Atlanta has a very special place in our hearts. Joshua Owen and Rachelle Owen, our great friends and EPs on this project — along with Rebeca Robles, who plays Nelly in the short — all co-founded Atlanta Theatre Club, which highlights stories about women and under-represented communities. They were the first people to hop onboard the project with us as Executive Producers to help us launch production, and we’re so grateful for them.
The music in the film was incredible. What was the process to create that with Zoë Keating?
I just fell in love with Zoe’s existing music and how she’s a solo musician with her cello creating pieces of music that are genius in my opinion. At first when I started editing the film, I thought of her music as the perfect temp music and later in the process after finishing the edit, it felt like her music was composed for this short. We reached out to Zoe’s team and are truly honored to have her music in our film.
The editing was also quite remarkable: frantic cuts at the beginning and while the SS officer loaded his gun at Alina’s mother’s house, but then long takes to slowly build the tension. What was the editing process like? How much did you have planned while shooting?
Thank you! I loved editing this film. The great advantage to lack of budget and resources for me is that it always leads to meticulous prep! Just like the script needs to be written beforehand, I always like to design the film before shooting with the edit in mind — but always remain open to the magical unexpected moments that come up on set.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of wearing so many hats (director, editor, producer) for this film?
It’s something that develops out of necessity; where I come from, almost everything is done on low budget. So bit by bit you start to develop abilities to keep your ambition and dream alive even if you’re limited to a specific scale or type of story that you can tell.
Storytelling is a form of art and expression where the storyteller is determined to express something to the world and will find a way to express it, despite any obstacles that may come their way. At least, that’s how I see it. I think wearing several hats forced me to at least understand other areas of filmmaking, such as producing and editing. This made me personally less intimidated by lack of resources and made me expand my ideas of what could be possible.
What are you most proud of from the film?
I’m proud that this film is speaking to the dangers of our current climate as much as it is highlighting these unsung heroes of the past. The women in this story didn’t have much at their disposal but they managed to commit extraordinary acts of bravery during the Holocaust. Smuggling children to safety was something the Nazis would immediately execute a person for. Despite all the risks and personal stakes involved, this network of women collectively saved over 2500 children. ALINA speaks to that power of love and hope, even in the darkest moments of history. We’re very thankful to be able to share this story in times like these.
What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?
We hope it sparks conversation on how, while set in the past, this story truly speaks to our current moment — especially the way in which acts of love can be a powerful form of resistance against hate and fascism.
What’s the best way to unwind after a hectic day on set?
Food, hands-down! After the most hectic days of filming, Nora and I would eat our favorite food at Carousel, an amazing Armenian restaurant in LA. There’s nothing like a comfort film during a shoot.