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Conversations with Leanne Melissa Bishop, Anabelle D. Munro and Jennifer Oleff

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leanne Melissa Bishop, Anabelle D. Munro and Jennifer Oleff. Them and their team share their story with us below:

The festival award-winning short film, The Weight of Perfection, presents a layered study of how a young athlete crumbles under the pressures of being an elite bi-racial gymnast, in a dysfunctional family, with an overbearing coach who releases her inner demons onto her young gymnasts. This topic is more relevant than ever following the recent news about the Olympian Laurie Hernandez and her abusive USA gymnastics coach.

In 2017 award-winning writer, actor, and director Leanne Melissa Bishop met Jennifer Oleff, an LA-based film producer and artist, at the Catalina Film Festival. The connection was instant as they bravely exchanged their personal experiences of being ED survivors. When Leanne approached Jennifer about a story inspired by her life in gymnastics, they dove headfirst into a collaboration. Jennifer immediately contacted a long-time friend and fellow active advocate for recovery and healing from EDs, Anabelle D. Munro, an award-winning director and author specializing in impact movie making and healing from eating disorders. Once Leanne, Anabelle, and Jennifer had a plan in place Marvin Glover, Suzette Troché-Stapp, and Marisa Vitali graciously joined the project to round out the producing and creative positions.

After the core team was established, crowdfunding through the Seed & Spark platform made the project not only financially possible but created a more inclusive and supportive experience. We essentially built an audience even before we had a film to show. The “family” of supporters confirmed that there is a need for this conversation. As production drew near and cast/crew were hired, it was clear that everyone working on the film was drawn to it because they were also very passionate about opening up conversations surrounding eating disorders. More than half of the film’s team turned out to be eating disorder (ED) survivors. This type of collaboration had a much broader level of connection and created special magic that translated straight onto the screen. The Weight of Perfection shows the horror, as well as the subtle temptations of an ED, and is filled with symbolism and psychological elements that explore the deep layers with an insight that only people who know can capture.

Together we are proud to invite you to understand the complexity of the fall into an eating disorder and what a long-term battle with this illness can look like. Audiences watching our labor of love are able to understand how close they may be to this illness hiding in plain sight. Ultimately, we hope that our audience will have a broader understanding of how destructive and painful the most deadly of all mental illnesses is.

Join the conversation and learn more by watching the trailer on our website: www.theweightofperfection.com where you can also find upcoming film festival screening dates/times open to the public. We are honored to announce that we have recently won The Grand Jury Award at the Orlando International Film Festival. We are also overjoyed that our lead Hayden Hishaw has just received the prestigious Louis Mitchell Award for her exceptional performance at the 17th Action on Film Festival held in Las Vegas in July, where we will be representing and showcasing our film between July 26 – August 1st.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The road leading up to delivering the movie was fantastic and we were looking forward to a glamorous red carpet premiere at the prestigious Academy Award Accredited Cleveland Festival 2020 – tickets were booked, rooms reserved, suitcases packed, and then…the pandemic. Although the festival did not go live, we were so honored to have our premiere virtually. Now that we are back on the live festival circuit, it is invigorating to be able to share our journey and speak about this taboo topic. Especially because we know that there are many people out there hiding, who need to hear us not care about the stigma, but instead see us as an example of how to walk forward in joy and pride from the darkness and shame of this illness.

Emotionally, the production challenged us to confront the closely guarded secrets about our own eating disorders. Sufferers and even people that have recovered or are actively in the recovery process can experience a hard time talking about their most vulnerable, dark times because this disease is extremely stigmatized. Leanne for example, who is still teaching gymnastics today, had to overcome different hurdles regarding positioning herself as such in a movie that is based on her own true story, whereas Anabelle wrote a very open and explicit account of her inspirational recovery journey called “The Skeleton Key”, or Jennifer, who has been active for many years as an eating disorder recovery activist and stigma buster with her art and volunteer work. But together, Leanne, Anabelle, Jennifer, and the rest of the team were each willing to expose the soft spots close to the raw nerves associated with their journeys which inspired the whole team to unite with an immense level of trust and compassion for each other to collectively embark on this brave journey. Proof that reaching out to a supportive community is one of the most powerful healing tools of all.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
The Weight of Perfection team of highly creative and multi-talented members were able to shine as professionals in their respective fields collectively providing maximum impact with minimal finances.

Once the script was in development, Anabelle established the artistic vision and key artistic elements in regards to underlying layers of the story; the toxic entanglements, social environment, dream psychology and symbolism, as well as a spiritual element.

With these in place she and Leanne were able to convey the vision to all of the departments so that even the smallest details were considered.

We used many practical effects to enhance the movie to achieve very realistic results.

Suzette Troche-Stapp’s creative contribution crossed many departments with her eye for set design, props, and branding. Jennifer Oleff applied her fine arts skills to create props and pieces that were integral to the vision and storytelling. Working alongside Suzette to provide personal pieces that were budget-friendly. We also had the talented Mary Gastineau who was able to add practical effects with prosthetics and artistic makeup. Our phenomenal cinematographer, Senda Bonnet, helped to achieve a very balanced and striking visual experience by taking time to understand what an ED looks and feels like as well as what layers and artistic elements were necessary to tell this story. And finally, a very special thank you to Dream Elite Gymnastics Academy for supporting the production with full access to their gym which allowed us to give an authentic view of gym life.

Because every person involved with this project brought their A game, we are proud to be featured at upcoming film festivals, receiving awards and nominations, peaking an interest in the next steps for this project. We are excited to see how this much needed conversation unfolds.

What was your favorite childhood memory?
Leanne’s old journals relating to her time as an elite gymnast was a true inspiration for The Weight of Perfection. Looking back on it now, the sport truly did give her so much joy, especially those young years when she would get dropped off at camp and meet new gymnastic pals. In addition to her acting and filmmaking career, Leanne still coaches young gymnasts today. This broad perspective has allowed her to reflect on her experience and by working with Anabelle and Jennifer she is now using it to start the conversation through The Weight of Perfection.

The ED survivors on the team all share a common thread with Leanne. We understand that a beautiful childhood memory, such as gymnastics in our film or a special treat like the birthday muffin in the film can have both a positive memory but also represent a feared and dreaded experience.

Our team is proud to have fulfilled our intention of providing an opportunity to make the deadliest of all mental illnesses a more comfortable topic for conversation (every 4th person dies from the long-term effects of eating disorders). Our goal with The Weight of Perfection was to inspire a much-needed conversation about understanding the complex layers of addiction and to show what eating disorders feel like; torment, self-harm and self-hate – and not, as the myth is telling us, the vanity of wanting to be “skinny”.

The Weight of Perfection represents proof that life after overcoming a dark and destructive time can come full circle and create beauty, understanding and healing. Putting more emphasis on the good memories.

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Suzette Troché-Stapp, Jennifer Oleff, Iva Red, and Irene Nester

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