Anna Maguire (director) and Julia Lederer (writer) are both at TIFF to promote their short film It's Nothing, which is screening as part of the Short Cuts Programme. The film is a powerful representation of the mental struggles afflicting individuals with eating disorders, and takes a unique approach in depicting the disorder on screen. It's Nothing will also be screening at the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival on September 18, 2019.
throwdown815: Can you talk about how the inspiration and story behind It’s Nothing came from a personal experience?
Julia Lederer: Yeah, it definitely came out of a personal experience for me. An eating disorder is a thing that I definitely experienced and have gone through. It was a fairly significant chuck of my life, and something that I really struggled to understand and communicate to other people. Being a writer, I was trying to think of an effective way to do that. That's kind of what inspired it.
TD815: And how did you (Anna) initially get involved with the project?
Anna Maguire: Well, Julia approached me through a friend of ours in 2014 because our friend thought we'd collaborate well together. I read her script and thought, "What a brave, engaging, honest portrayal of an eating disorder." And I really connected to it and thought it was really empowering as a piece of writing. And I was really excited to collaborate with Julia because I work a lot with internal processes, and I thought it would be a really interesting thing to work on together.
TD815: There’s a lot of powerful imagery in the film, and in particular, the image and concept of someone with an eating disorder digging their own grave (quite literally) was very striking for me. Can you talk about how that concept came to be?
JL: A lot of my theater work uses metaphor to express something that is emotionally driven and isn't often rational. To me, it feels like almost a more honest and direct way to express it, so it's just the way I tend to come at things. And although digging a hole isn’t the whole experience, it's a really good representation of how it felt for me. It's the sort of thing that becomes almost a tool and a necessity and you can become trapped there, before you even realize that you've entrapped yourself. And the idea of climbing out felt really relevant to me and also created a space that sometimes feels like a haven – like a safe space, but also totally isolated and destructive at the same time.
TD815: What was the creative process behind deciding to personifying an eating disorder into Cara Gee’s character?
AM: I think it's the double-ness between it being someone who is leading you astray, but is also a comfort. It’s a kind of toxic friendship on some level.
JL: There are moments when I think Cara’s character is comforting to Emily’s character (Robin), because she engages with her in a way that makes her feel understood and seen – and feel like there's a purpose and drive to what she's doing that other people don't understand.
AM: It's a kind of paradox, right? This paradox of safety and peril, which is a constant of the interplay in dealing with an eating disorder.
TD815: And to represent eating disorders in a way that isn’t completely just physical was also very interesting.
AM: Well, we were really sick of seeing films that dealt with eating disorders from the outside in. I think what's often misunderstood is that it's something about looks, which feels very archaic. We really wanted to explore an internal process. We're really looking at mental health and I think the connection to mental health is tantamount.
JL: I think that also makes it a lot more accessible. It can be really hard to understand an eating disorder, but to understand a feeling of addiction or even just the act of digging yourself further in and not being able to stop, that's so much easier to relate to on a more universal level. Part of it is the difference between saying, "Okay, that's an eating disorder. I don't understand that." To saying, "Oh, I understand the emotions behind it, or that experience of it."
TD815: When writing or directing this short film, did you constantly think about who the audience of the film would be?
JL: For me, when I was writing it, I was just hoping that it was something that people would connect to. And I think the thing about mental health is that it does affect everyone, right?
AM: In some way or another.
JL: Either it's someone who's in that experience and maybe it helps them feel understood in a way they hadn't before.
AM: Or there's someone helping them through it, and I think that was one thing that we really noticed when making this film. That every single person involved in the film had a connection to someone with an eating disorder; be it themselves, a family member, a friend, and it made me realize how much of an epidemic this is and how much we need to talk about this. We need to shed light on it and we need to remove the stigma and the shame because if we don't, as a society, we're not gonna begin to understand these things or heal from them.
TD815: And I’m assuming the two of you obviously believe that filmmaking is one way to remove that stigma?
AM: I think it's a way to promote conversation. For me, film shouldn't be didactic. I'm very interested in asking audiences to question their own version of things, their own view of things and their own stigmas. For this film specifically, we really wanted to connect with people so that they felt in some way engaged or heard. Maybe someone feels, "No, that's not my experience at all." And we welcome that, we'd like to hear that. All we can do is be specific about the version we're telling.
JL: It's one version. There are definitely, unfortunately, many others. This is something that I feel like I can contribute because I know it, but it's not something that speaks for everyone. That’s just impossible.
TD815: Stepping away from the film itself, on a societal level, do you feel that eating disorders are as well represented compared to other mental health issues?
AM: They're very much seen as a physical thing, and I think it's an interaction between physical, mental and emotional – like all other mental illnesses. I think we need to engage with and start to understand it in a different way, or we're not going to get to the bottom of them.