Aynsleigh Haines and Chantal Van Zyl, West New York residents, are the Executive Producer and Director, respectively, of “Beneath The Surface”: a short film about six Hudson County women who reflect on their personal journeys of how domestic violence and abuse have shaped their lives. Aynsleigh and Chantal are both passionate about women’s rights and hope that sharing this film will bring awareness to people all over the world and inspire victims to find the courage to reach out and acknowledge their struggles. Keep reading to learn more about Aynsleigh and Chantal’s film journey.
Hoboken Girl: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Aynsleigh Haines: I was born and raised in Queensland, Australia. I have lived in Hudson County for four years. After working in the fashion industry, I soon realized that my true passion was in the arts. This project has given me the opportunity to bring awareness to the impact Domestic Violence (DV) has had on the world, and to make people understand that there is still so much that needs to be done to protect women and their rights. I am a strong supporter of women’s rights and am a member of NOW, the National Organization of Women. This is especially personal for me as 2020 was recorded as Australia’s worst year regarding domestic violence due to the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope this film reaches the people who need it the most, and hope that it gives everyone the courage to reach out and acknowledge their struggles. I am the Executive Producer of this film and am an actor.
Chantal Van Zyl: I am South African and grew up performing in Community Musicals in my small hometown, Hartbeespoort. I have always been involved in theatre since I was a small child. I moved to the area three years ago to pursue a career in the arts. I succeeded through working my way from the bottom, learning how a theatre operates, becoming a stage manager, running wardrobe and art direction, and supporting and lead roles in multiple plays. I am very passionate about this project since South Africa has one of the highest femicide rates in the world and 51% of women in South Africa have experienced violence at the hands of their partners. I am very much looking forward to sharing this project and hopes that this film brings awareness to people all over the world. I am the Director and Writer of this project.
HG: What do you do for a living?
AH: We are both actors. We met three years ago, along with fellow producers Emily Hope and Katerina Camejo, whilst attending The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute where notable actors such as Al Pacino, Sally Field, Alec Baldwin, Laura Dern, Marilyn Monroe, Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie, Claire Danes, Lady Gaga, Rosario Dawson and so many more attended.
At Strasberg, we trained in “The Method” which seeks to encourage sincere and expressive performances through identifying with, understanding, and experiencing a character’s inner motivation and emotions. Chantal has extensive theatrical experience (she has been the lead actor, supporting actor, producer, stage manager, art director, and wardrobe coordinator), however, this is her first time directing. I am a SAG-AFTRA member and have worked for the past six years in Film and TV as an actor, however, this is my first time producing.
HG: How did you get into acting and producing?
AH: We got into acting after years of community theatre in our home countries. Both of us acted when we were younger and the passion for the art has stayed with us. As for producing, this is a new venture for us. With the pandemic affecting our industry last year, we felt we had no other choice but to start creating our own work. Even to this day, the industry hasn’t completely bounced back. Covid guidelines have severely cut the number of people that can be on set at the same time, therefore, reducing the number of roles available to the acting community. Those roles have become even harder to get.
Broadway still hasn’t opened. Last year one of our producers, Emily Hope, read a play by Sarah Treem called When We Were Young And Unafraid. She shared it with me and planned on performing it when the theatre returned. However, the return of theatre was even further delayed, making it harder to produce our own show. The play addressed domestic violence and abuse, along with the feminist movement of the 70s.
At the same time, I did a little research and we discovered that 2020 saw such a dramatic rise in domestic violence as victims were now in isolation with their abusers. We also found the socioeconomic stress created by the lockdowns also contributed to the rise of abuse. It was disturbing and we were inspired to do something for all of the women who have been victims of DV, so we wrote these stories that inspired the friends and family from our real lives, and Chantal molded it into a beautiful script. Weeks later we decided to take control of producing the project ourselves.
HG: What was it like filming locally?
AH: The support we have received has been overwhelming and so heartwarming. There’s a real sense of community. So many people know each other, and their families and their stories. When we looked for locations and spoke to people, they knew someone personally who has been affected by this. No one said no. Every person we asked wanted to help in some way. If they didn’t have the space for us, they helped us find someone who did. If they weren’t available to help, they found someone who could. Everyone agreed that this is such an important issue and awareness is how we will start to overcome this.
HG: Who is the biggest source of inspiration for this project?
AH: The women we personally know, whom the stories in the film are based on. Some are family members, some are friends, some are co-workers and some are people in the communities we grew up in. We honor them by creating this film.
HG: Tell us about working with local businesses on the film.
AH: I live at the Capstone, so I know the people in the community personally. The management and staff are some of the most professional and caring people. Cast rehearsals were held there along with filming two scenes of the film. Even during our search for an apartment, Erga Hoxha was extremely honest and proactive. I highly recommend her if you are looking for an approachable, open, and honest leasing agent.
We needed a location to serve as our “cafe”. Urban Coalhouse has a beautiful outdoor space for dining that is tastefully styled. The food is not only delicious but is aesthetically pleasing and will look great on film. We reached out in April 2021, and that same day we received a response from Evie Kil. She was extremely supportive and already had the management team on board. They personally knew someone who was affected by DV, they rallied around her and came together to show her love and support. We also got to meet her, such an inspiration. It’s truly amazing what women can do! Even in the darkest of times, we have the strength to go on with the love and support of our community. By hosting us on July 31, Urban showed the community that this is a cause they stand behind.
Saint Lawrence Parish was another organization that has a personal connection to DV. The Parish family is very welcoming to everyone across Hudson County and beyond. The team really does provide a wonderful support network in the community. Father Eric was happy to host us and his staff was extremely accommodating and offered to support us in any way they could. There are also community programs to support their Parishioners and to provide guidance in times of need. The doors are always open to everyone. We encourage people to reach out to Saint Lawrence Parish by going to the website. There are contacts available to email for more personal support. This Parish may be small but their hearts are big.
HG: When can viewers expect to see the film?
AH: Beneath The Surface will hit the film festival circuit in early 2022.
To stay up to date with the release of the film, follow the Instagram page here.