Leah Meyerhoff: Paving the Road to a New Life in Film for Women Everywhere
By Mia Chavez & Nicole Tavares, Fusion Public Relations
There was a warm wind blowing through the streets as I made my way to a screening of Leah Meyerhoff’s feature film, I Believe in Unicorns. Perhaps I am being overly sentimental, as some would dismiss wind simply as a feature of any autumn evening. However, I can’t help but wonder if the balmy buzzing air had something to do with the exciting energy surrounding Meyerhoff’s presence at Tisch. There has never been such an exciting time for women in media as there is in today’s world. Change is in the air and you could almost feel it on your skin the night Leah Meyerhoff graced a room full of young filmmakers eager to hear her honest words of wisdom.
Tisch alumna, screenwriter, director, and founder of the women filmmakers’ organization, Film Fatales, Leah Meyerhoff confessed that she never really defined herself as a “female filmmaker.” She saw herself as a filmmaker who happened to also be a female. Once she graduated and began making her way through the real world of filmmaking, she quickly became aware of her minority status. Meyerhoff first encountered these stigmas as she began her journey on the independent film festival circuit with her short film, Twitch, (a precursor to her debut feature film, I Believe In Unicorns.) Meyerhoff said, “At the end of the day, to be a filmmaker, you need that self motivation and drive. You need to generate your own career.” She didn’t let the fact that she is a woman stop her from getting her film made. She believed in her project and the story she wanted to tell, and surrounded herself with a team of people just as eager to make this film a reality.
As a result, Meyerhoff founded Film Fatales, “a collaborative community, rather than a competitive one.” Meyerhoff began the organization when she invited six women filmmakers over for dinner one night to discuss the industry and get some inside advice. The general consensus was so positive that they decided to make the meetings a monthly occurrence among the group. Since the fortuitous dinner, Film Fatales has expanded to hundreds of cities across the country and throughout the world.
Armed with advice from her collaborators in Film Fatales, Meyerhoff worked tirelessly on her short, Twitch. She said, “Short films are an amazing way to explore whether or not your idea could work as a feature. School is a great place to take risks you may not necessarily be able to take in the real feature world.” One of those risks was Meyerhoff’s decision to cast an underage actress as the lead, as well as her actual mother (who suffers from MS in real life) as the mother in the film. Once her experiment proved successful with Twitch winning numerous awards, Meyerhoff decided to proceed with turning Twitch into the beautiful feature film, I Believe In Unicorns. The feature follows the life of 16-year-old Davina, a character loosely based on Meyerhoff. Davina’s vivid fantasies of escaping the responsibility of caring for her ailing mother land her on a wild runaway roadtrip with her rebellious, angst-ridden boyfriend, Sterling.
Being able to glimpse the process Meyerhoff endured to make I Believe In Unicorns was truly inspiring, especially given the autobiographical nature of the two female-driven narratives. Meyerhoff said, “So often, we are waiting for permission to make our films. Above all else, you need to generate your own motivation and give yourself that permission to make this film no matter what.” I left the screening inspired by the increasing number of doors opening for female filmmakers thanks to talented and motivational women like Leah Meyerhoff.
Photo by Chloe Aftel
Photo by Joe Tanis