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ON SCREEN
I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS
Wednesday, April 9 @ Angelika
Thursday, April 10 @ Angelika

By Jessica Tomberlin
DIFF Writer

I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS is a magical journey into the mind of a teenage girl as she struggles to navigate her way through adolescence, coming to terms with what it means to be an adult while holding onto the nostalgia of her childhood. The film stars Natalia Dyer as the 16-year-old Davina, and her performance is mesmerizing. You can’t help but be captured by her character as she brings you along with her on this journey.

From (L) to (R), Peter Vack and Natalia Dyer in I Believe in UnicornsDavina lives with her mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, which has confined her to a life in wheel chair. This aspect of the story is an extremely personal one for Meyerhoff, whose own mother plays the character in the film. She says the decision to cast her mother in the role created a domino effect that changed the nature of the film and ultimately provides the story a heightened since of authenticity.

“My mother has MS and has been in a wheelchair almost my entire life, and so I had an interesting childhood in that when I was growing up I was taking care of her rather than she taking care of me, and I kind of skipped I guess what would be a normal childhood, that effected how I wrote the character and in turn effects the decisions she makes,” says Meyerhoff.

Meyerhoff also contributes much of the genuine quality of the film to Dyer’s role in it and the truth she was able to bring to the story based on her own life as a 16-year-old girl in collaboration with Meyerhoff’s own past experiences. “I auditioned for months and saw hundreds and hundreds of girls and, when I finally saw Natalia, I was like she is so perfect: she is smart, has emotional depth, and is really mature in so many ways. Even so, she can still play really young, and we had a really collaborative process,” says Meyerhoff.

“As I was getting to know her I would rewrite dialog from things that she would say and stories from her own experience, being a junior in high school, and that again, the decision to cast a real teenager effected everything as well, like limited shooting hours, so it kind of transformed the production in many ways, but it was so worth it because she is stunning.”

“UNICORNS” addresses important issues about dating violence that many young girls and women face today. But, rather than approaching them in a strictly technical or straightforward way, they’re presented from the perspective of a teenage girl as she is living through them. Her perspective includes magical elements juxtaposed with the more emotionally heavy, reality-based aspects of the film. This unique visual lens makes the story relatable to a wider audience.

“I think that the decision to have those elements came out of the development of this character, and the fact that she’s an artist, and she’s sort of an outsider, a little bit different, a little bit dreamy, and this is how she deals with the world,” says Meyerhoff. “When reality is too much she goes into her mind, into this kind of day dream stage, and so that led to the visual aesthetic of the film as well as the overall emotional tone.”

unikornsCreating this world was a time-consuming and collaborative effort. Meyerhoff and her production team worked together in order to determine the best way to incorporate the visual aspects of the story. The film was shot in three stages: The regular production with all the cast and crew, then an extra week with the cinematographer, costume designer, photographer and other members of the production team was spent on the more fantastical scenes, and then the final stage, which Meyerhoff describes as “months and months of stop motion animation,” something she herself had never attempted before the making of this film.

“The experience of making the film was just as much an adventure as the fantastical scenes within the film, “ says Meyerhoff. “We built this miniature forest, it was like 2 feet high, but it was alive with real trees and real dirt, so we had to water the set every morning…so we kind of repurposed stuff from the main production and then put it into this miniature world, and I’m so happy with how those scenes turned out, especially with the animation.”

The entire film was shot on 16 mm film, including the animated scenes, the result of which is nothing short of amazing. “It was a very tedious process, but it was so much fun doing it and I’m really glad we did it because I think the more dreamy sequences are going to be something that feels kind of hand crafted and textural, and something that would be in this characters mind,” says Meyerhoff.

“Of course it might have been easier to just bring it into after effects and do something digitally, but I think doing it the hard way really pays off not just in terms of the look but also the heart of the film; you can tell this film has fingerprints all over it.”

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