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21st Firstglance Film Festival 2021

Olia Oparina

A sane woman fakes the symptoms of a mentally unstable patient in order to be admitted into a mental institution for a secret psychiatric experiment.


Hi Olia, thanks for talking to TNC, how have you been keeping during these very strange Covid Times?


Surprisingly it was a very productive time for me. Although there wasn’t much physical production happening, there was just enough time for me to catch up on the things I have been putting off. Anya Bay and I got to finish our short film “I AM NORMAL”, develop festival and marketing strategies. I finished my website, started writing a feature screenplay, got into an amazing program for women called “Future Directors of Studio Features” run by The Blackmagic Collective. 


Has this time offered you any new or unique creative experiences?


Covid offered a new perspective on what’s important. For me, it was my art. I realized that my desire for creativity could be fulfilled in a few different ways, not just on a film set with a big crew. I wrote a short that I was going to make entirely by myself, using miniatures, drawings, stop motion, and “point of view” shots. Covid constraints forced me to think outside the box. I’ve also started making a graphic novel based on Siberian Fairy Tales. Screenwriting was a way for me to escape reality and hide in my dark fantasy world. I am grateful to Sundance Collab for keeping me on track and allowing me to get feedback from fellow filmmakers. Honestly, I think I’ve made more connections during Covid than ever. The hunger for social interaction pushed me to find networking opportunities through The Clubhouse, festival panels, and film workshops. 


How does it feel to be back on the live film festival circuit with your film?


It feels incredible! There is something magical about sitting in a movie theatre and seeing your film on a big screen. It brings pride and confidence. Like it’s for real! People bought tickets to come to see it haha. And just being out and talking to other filmmakers. I haven’t been in a regular movie theatre for a year and a half. I missed being around other creatives, seeing their work, talking about films. It’s the kind of energy that inspires me to create. 


What does it mean to you to be at the 21st FirstGlance Film Festival Los Angeles with your latest short film? 


I am super excited and grateful to be at such a reputable film festival. The selection of films this year is outstanding. I am honoured that my short is screened alongside other highly cinematic and meaningful stories. 

Can you tell me a little bit about your short film I Am Normal, how did this film come about?


I AM NORMAL was written by my talented friend and producing partner Anya Bay. Same as me, Anya grew up during unsettling times right after the collapse of the USSR. Her father was a respectable psychotherapist. His patients would often come to Anya’s home and bring all kinds of stuff as a form of payment. The 90s crises pushed most Russians beyond the poverty line. Anya met one of the patients named Igor, who was the sweetest man but suffered from schizophrenia. No amount of therapy could save Igor from taking his own life. That’s when she promised that at some point she would raise awareness about this matter.


What inspired this screenplay? 


The story of I AM NORMAL was inspired by The Rosenhan Experiment of 1973, when 8 healthy and completely “normal” volunteers were sent to the psych wards around the US to check the validity of the psychiatric diagnoses system. Not only all of them were admitted inside the wards, but they were also considered schizophrenic and were forced to take the meds. In our film we’re reliving this experiment through KEIRA, facing the fine line between sanity and insanity and questioning whether staying in these facilities can really cure your mental illness or only make it worse. 


What was the most challenging aspect of bringing I Am Normal to life?


The biggest challenge was to exercise sensitivity and subtlety. We wanted to make sure the story did not feel advantageous of mental health illnesses but did get across the severity of the situation. 


Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?


Russian Myths and Soviet propaganda have all shaped my opinion on how and why to tell stories. They are not simple mere distractions from our daily life, but they allow us to experience something new and change the way we see the world. While this notion might seem to hearken back to the Soviet attempts to use cinema as a tool to suppress expression, it is much more than that.


"And when the film is finally out there in the world it doesn’t belong to its creator anymore. It belongs to people, provokes thoughts and emotions, and encourages action."

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken from directing I Am Normal?


I’ve learned to let go and enjoy the experience no matter what happens. The film changes multiple times throughout the production. Things planned fall through. I have to constantly adapt. That’s the beauty of storytelling. It lives, it changes. And when the film is finally out there in the world it doesn’t belong to its creator anymore. It belongs to people, provokes thoughts and emotions, and encourages action. 


Do you have any advice to offer anyone thinking of making their own short film?


Don’t try to make something you hope everyone would like. Make a story that is burning you from inside, no matter how terrifying it feels to show it to the world. 


And finally, what do you want people to take away from your film?


Our well-being is only as good as our mental health. Being treated a certain way translates to a person seeing themselves that way. So we should not be quick to judge or put labels on anyone. 

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