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Earth Mama

Directed by Savanah Leaf
Produced by Sam Bisbee, Savanah Leaf, Shirley O'Connor, Medb Riordan, and Cody Ryder
Written by Savanah Leaf Based on the short film The Heart Still Hums by Savanah Leaf and Taylor Russell
With: Tia Nomore, Erika Alexander, Keta Price, Doechii, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Bokeem Woodbine, Kami Jones, Slim Yani, and Dominic Fike
Cinematography: Jody Lee Lipes
Editing: George Cragg
Music: Kelsey Lu
Runtime: 101 min
Release Date: 08 December 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.66 : 1
Color: Color

Earth Mama is the debut feature of British former Olympic volleyball player Savanah Leaf. The film is based on the short documentary film The Heart Still Hums by Leaf and actress Taylor Russell. The short follows five young mothers with children in the foster care system as they navigate the vicious cycle of poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, and their own parental neglect. This fiction feature incorporates a few touches from the short doc but primarily centers on one pregnant single mother named Gia, played with sympathy and conviction by rapper-turned-doula Tia Nomore (who won the Best Breakthrough Performance at this year's Sundance Film Festival). Gia has two children in the Bay Area foster care system, whom she desperately wants back. But legal, societal, and environmental factors stack the deck against her.

In early scenes, we witness the catch twenty-two Gia is in. She needs to prove that she can hold down a job, stay off drugs, and provide a stable environment for her kids. However, the roster of classes, treatment programs, visitations, testing, and assessments she must schedule into her life make it difficult for her to work enough hours at her low-paid job at a portrait studio. On top of these systemic factors, Gia is pressured by members of her community, particularly a religious friend who views the fact that Gia is considering an open adoption for her next baby to spare them the pain of the foster system as a betrail of her culture, her ancestors, and God himself. Erika Alexander (Get Out, American Fiction) gives an outstanding supporting performance as a social worker who attempts to help Gia and many other mothers in her Oakland community.

Leaf's keenly observed drama is captured in patient unbroken takes bathed in the typically harsh or dim lighting of Gia's various environments by the excellent cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (Tiny FurnitureMartha Marcy May Marlene, Manchester by the Sea). Close-ups of Nomore's face and body capture Gia's situation, thoughts, and emotions as eloquently as the script's space dialogue. This rich exploration of an all-too-common reality is an astute and assured debut from both filmmaker and actor.


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An astute and assured feature film debut of writer/director Savanah Leaf and actor Tia Nomore explores the complex reality of a pregnant single mother attempting to navigate the foster care system.