When two Olis bonded over their mutual love of filmmaking, they decided to combine their senior projects and tackle a major issue: mental health stigma.
As part of Oliverian’s core curriculum, seniors participate in culminating projects that help prepare them for the postgraduate world. Whether Olis are headed off to college or plan to enter the workforce, their senior project encourages and challenges them to design, plan, and execute independent study in a field of personal interest.
For Oli seniors Leah and Annilyn, a mutual love of filmmaking inspired them to combine their projects in order to expand the scope of what they could create. Together, they created a short film tackling mental health stigma with the goal of inspiring viewers to rethink the way they understand depression.
“We wanted to jump right into filming, but we knew that we needed to prepare if we wanted to make a good film,” says Annilyn.
While filming itself only took a week, the two Oli seniors spent months preparing to ensure their shoot days were productive. In addition to creating a mood board that would serve as a starting point for the project, Leah and Annilyn also put together a shot list outlining every frame that would eventually appear in the film, as well as a screenplay to guide the filming process.
“We used the environment to our advantage,” explains Leah. “There was a lot of snow in our mood board and we had decided that the symbolic centerpiece of the film would be a red wagon, so the snow around Oliverian contrasted nicely with the red.”
Overall, filming was challenging but rewarding. Leah trudged through the snow while Annilyn filmed multiple takes from different vantage points. The result? A powerful and symbolic five-minute short.
“Both of us had started working on individual projects, and both had themes of mental illness. So we both had these ideas surrounding this topic,” says Leah. “And we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be super cool if we put our artistic efforts together to create a movie that encompassed these themes that we were already discovering and exploring?’ So that was the birth of our project.”
In the film, a young woman pulls her red wagon through the snow. Eventually, she sees that the wagon is full of brackish water and tries to bail it out. Using a small bucket, she gradually empties the wagon until she’s finally free from the heavy burden. As Leah explains, the water was a symbol of mental illness while the bucket represented willpower, the force that helps people find the care and resources they need to get better.
The two Oli seniors noted that many films confronting mental illness often focus only on its negative aspects. In contrast, they wanted to create a film that simultaneously explores what people struggling with mental illness go through while also offering inspiration for those seeking treatment and working to overcome depression.
“The film gave me a chance to really use my passion for filmmaking, and to make something that I really wanted to make,” said Annilyn. “It gave me an idea of, ‘Hey, there’s something that I’d really like to do, and it’s filmmaking.’”
Now, Leah and Annilyn are excited to share their senior project with the Oliverian community. After weeks working on a film they’re proud of — and that’s encouraged them to pursue creative endeavors in the future — they’re hopeful that it will help people understand mental illness as a journey, not the end of the story.