It's fitting that the feature film "Savannah" will open in the city it is named for and where it was filmed.
Savannah is one of 12 cities chosen across the country for the opening-day release of the film, set for Aug. 23 at Victory Square Cinema. Written by Kenneth F. Carter and Annette Haywood-Carter, it tells the story of Ward Allen of Savannah, who rejected his heritage of wealth to provide markets with fowl he hunted along the Savannah River in the early 20th century.
With his longtime friend, freed slave Christmas Moultrie, Allen fought for his rights as a hunter.
Along the way, he won the hand and heart of his high-society wife, Lucy, who defied her father to marry him.
The screenplay is based on a book, "Ward Allen: Savannah River Market Hunter," written by John "Jack" Eugene Cay Jr. A collection of anecdotes, it was originally written as a paper for the Madeira Club and was later self-published as a book.
Haywood-Carter, who also directed the film, learned about the book when Cay's son, John, called her.
"I had just moved to Savannah and was working at SCAD," she says.
"At first, I thought he wanted help connecting to someone in Hollywood. As I was driving down Drayton, it occurred to me he wanted me to write the screenplay. I had to pull over.
"Turned out he had been talking to screenwriters in Hollywood and one was keen to do it, but he had thought it needed be written by a Southerner," Haywood-Carter says. "Someone told him about me."
Haywood-Carter saw potential in the story.
"I realized these were wonderful, wonderful characters," she says. "But Jack's book is a collection of anecdotes. They don't add up to a narrative. It had to be clear that if we made a feature film, it would be so difficult to get made and so expensive.
"I had to make sure the story had appeal outside its own small world," she says. "It took a while."
First, she and her husband had to figure out what the narrative should contain.
"We bounced ideas back and forth," she says.
"Key was in the fact that Jack in the 1950s was so interested, he would write these stories," Haywood-Carter says. "Why is Jack so interested? What is it that touches his heart?
"That's when we came up with the universal theme of not just the tradition of storytelling in the South, but universally the idea of handing off values to the next generation through stories we tell and that the values themselves are universal."
An elderly Moultrie tells the story of Allen's life to a little boy, who passes down the story to the next generation. The character of the boy was inspired by Jack Cay.
"One of the most touching stories was hearing that Jack would take groceries out to Christmas once a week," Haywood-Carter says. "He was completely dependent on Jack for his survival. Jack protected Christmas's right to live out his life on the land."
Jack's son, John, is executive producer of "Savannah" with his wife, Billings Cay. Several Savannahians worked in the cast and crew of the production.
Although they collaborated on "Savannah," Haywood-Carter and her husband don't always work together.
"Savannah" was a good project to direct, Haywood-Carter says.
"The story is so beautiful and Savannah is such a beautiful city to film in," she says.
"The community is so incredibly generous. It was really easy to get what we needed creatively. We had an unbelievable cast."
Because of budgetary concerns, the film had to be shot in just 21 days.
"When you're moving that fast every day, you can't make a mistake," she says.
"We were filming one shot and I was talking to the people beside me about what the next shot has to have," she says. "Those were extremely difficult and challenging conditions to work under."
The actors, including Jim Caviezel as Allen, Chiwetel Ejiofer as Moultrie, Jaimie Alexander as Lucy Stubbs, Sam Shepard as Lucy's father and Hal Holbrook as Mr. Rice, were a joy to work with, Haywood-Carter says.
"There were so many great memorable moments," she says. "The one that left me breathless was the scene with Jim Caviezel where he takes Lucy to the river.
"A really tragic thing has happened. He wants to share with her this beauty of this thing he loves, which is nature.
"What Jim Caviezel did emotionally was just heartbreaking and brilliant," Haywood-Carter says. "He went to places emotionally where we did just one take, which I never do as a director. Jim is passionate, deeply, deeply, emotional and brings everything he has to the set and his character."
Alexander enjoyed playing Lucy.
"She's very ahead of her time, kind of hot-headed," Alexander says.
"She does care what society thinks of her in the sense that she wants to keep her marriage together. But she is very unconventional and went off with Ward before they were married."
Alexander took the role after a casting director told her she'd be right for it.
"It was different," she says. "It's good to do something like that. I read the script and saw it was so beautifully written."
Working in Savannah was a pleasure, Alexander says.
"The costumes and carriages and the way they set up Savannah to look the way it did back then was so surreal," she says.
"We got to shoot in some of the heritage houses. It was just stunning. It was a lot of fun to walk around. I really loved the crew and cast. Everyone was so fun and polite."
Originally, Alexander began acting as a way of goofing off with her brothers and trying to entertain their mother and friends.
"I was very athletic," she says. "I segued into acting through a friend. I was originally trying to make money to go to college."
She has since appeared in such films as "Thor," "The Last Stand" and "Love and Other Drugs."
"I've just finished reshoots for 'Thor 2,' Alexander says. "It's great to do films on one end of the spectrum and then the other. It shows how versatile you are.
"I absolutely enjoyed 'Savannah.' I loved the people and am still in contact with some of the crew. It was absolutely stunning there.
"I definitely enjoyed working with Annette," Alexander says. "She's a woman who shows up with a plan.
"That's beneficial to actors to have a leader who knows what they want. That provides creative freedom to the actors. Annette is very kind and grounded."
Unless the film does extraordinarily well, it will be screened only in the 12 cities selected for its opening. It is set to be released to DVD on Sept. 24.
"The way the industry works now, you have to have good box office the first weekend to be able to secure multiple weeks of distribution and spread out past the original cities," Haywood-Carter says. "People who want to see this film should not delay. Go out the very first weekend."
You will see a film with real heart and soul, she says.
"It was a real privilege to make this film," she says, "It's a rare, rare privilege where you partner with someone who not only brings you very special material that you can fall in love with but also has a vision.
"Jim Cay had a vision. He saw this as 'A River Runs Through It' in the marsh," says Haywood-Carter.
"To have found that in an independent arena was a gift to me, something I'm really grateful for."
IF YOU GO
What: Opening day release of "Savannah"
When: Aug. 23
Where: Victory Square Cinema, 1915 E. Victory Drive