Meyerhoff talks about the need for more films about young women.
Writer-director Leah Meyerhoff fully admits the lead character, Davina, in her debut feature I Believe In Unicorns “is about 50% me.”
The film follows a teenage girl growing up in San Francisco and taking care of her wheelchair-bound mother (so far, so true, for Meyerhoff — and she even cast her mother, Toni, in the same role). But that world turns less autobiographical as this imaginative young girl falls in love with young rocker Sterling (Peter Vack) and takes a road trip that turns volatile.
“The entire film is told from her perspective as much as possible,” says Meyerhoff. “I wanted to tell the story of this teenage girl who had this imaginative way of seeing the world.”
She adds: “The reason I wanted to be a film-maker is to tell more stories about young girls; there aren’t enough about them.”
Casting newcomer Natalia Dyer helped bring Davina to life, as the director and actress collaborated on a number of elements ‹ for instance the idea of the unicorn motif came from Dyer. For the writer-director it was the perfect creature to represent this teenage world — both childlike and phallic at the same time.
New York-based Meyerhoff spent five months casting the film, and was tipped off about 16-year-old Nashville high school student Dyer by the Coen brothers’ True Grit casting team, who said she was one of the top candidates for the role that went to Hailee Steinfeld. “I knew she could do it,” Meyerhoff says. “Still, it’s a difficult role, she’s in every frame.”
Unicorns was shot on Super 16mm for a warm feel, and the visuals are at times fairy-tale like, with handmade-style animations that showcase Davina’s dream worlds, plus old home movies, Polaroid pictures and underwater scenes alongside more traditional cinematography.
Unicorns had its world premiere at SXSW and has been a hit on the festival circuit ever since (Meyerhoff’s shorts have shown at more than 200 festivals). Jessica Lacy at ICM represents the director and the film.
Meyerhoff is now looking at love from a more adult angle. “I’m writing a feature, a love story about a divorced couple who are getting back together,” she says.
She is keen to continue creating strong female characters. While attending NYU Tisch’s film school, Meyerhoff started a female film-making collective, Film Fatales, for women feature film-makers to tell personal stories. She has had some key inspirations in her own career, including Unicorns producer Heather Rae (Frozen River) and executive producer Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging). “I want to help the next generation, in the way Allison Anders has helped me,” she says.