2014 Tribeca Film Festival Filmmaker Profile: Elizabeth Swados (Co Director – ‘My Depression: The Up and Down and Up Of It’)

HBO’s ‘MY DEPRESSION: THE UP AND DOWN AND UP OF IT’ is the engaging personal journey of acclaimed theater director/composer Elizabeth Swados‘ decades-long struggle with depression. Poignant yet humorous, this animated short film takes an often-misunderstood condition and brings greater clarity to it, illuminating the symptoms, emotions and side effects associated with depression.

From masking her condition, to fighting everyday emotional ups and downs, to her efforts to find coping mechanisms, the film uses animation, humor and song to make a difficult and sometimes taboo topic more accessible and understandable. Based on the award-winning book, “My Depression: A Picture Book“, the film features the vocal talents of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi and Fred Armisen and is directed by Robert Marianetti, David Wachtenheim, and Elizabeth Swados.

Anticipating ‘My Depression: The Up and Down and Up Of It‘ Screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival we profile the film’s Co-Director Elizabeth Swados, who’s book inspired the film.  The film screens as part of the City Limits Shorts Program on Thursday, April 17, Sunday, April 20, Thursday, April 24 and Sunday, April 27, 2014 in New York City.

Find More Information & Tickets to ‘My Depression: The Up and Down and Up Of It’ at the 2014 Tribeca Film FestivalHERE

Acting as a Co-Director for a short film, how were the directorial tasks split amongst yourself and David Wachtenheim and Robert Marianetti?
The three of us co-wrote the script based on my book (My Depression: A Picture Book), and we-as a collective decided who was saying what, when and how. I worked with the actors for the voices and they gave me their input. They directed all the animation and I gave my opinions and ideas for what should go where, but they were in charge of the technical end of it. Together, we made decisions about the music and the timing. It was a true collaboration, split up according to our strengths.

My_Depression_Tribeca_Film_Festival_1The subject of depression is something close to me as it has been a prominent part of my life for many years, as well as the peripheral personal and social effects that result.  What are your experiences with the disorder?  How have you found ways to minimize its debilitating effects?
I have struggled with depression since I was very young and at different times in my life I have dealt with it in different ways. I believe in talk therapy and medication, but I think it has to be the right therapist and the right medication, often that takes several tries and a lot of painful waiting for things to work. In the long run, the answer can be found but it has to be pursued. Pursued with as much strength as possible and the support of loved ones who understand and who can be there when the pain gets too bad. I also find that work and helping others relieves my own pain because I am not thinking about what’s wrong with me, I am trying to make things for people and give them a place to feel safe.

As the film is presented as a short form narrative, what was the approach towards its construction in relation to presenting and maintain a cohesive narrative arc?
We knew right from the beginning that we were going to stick very close to the book. The book worked and didn’t need to be re-done, so our backbone was the cartoons and words that were in a certain order in the book, and we did change some things around and write some songs. Without the book, there would’ve been no film.

Describe the approach the film’s animation?  What particular animation “look” were you going for?  Why did you feel animation was the best way to present this subject matter?
If you look at the book, it’s called My Depression: A Picture Book, and modeled in the James Thurber, Jules Feiffer and Gary Trudeau-type way. It’s all pictures and only captions to try to capture the essence of what a moment is in depression, of what symptoms are and attempts to exist while in a deep depression. Since the book was cartoons, it was obvious that it had to be animation, and we all agreed that the animation should respect the kind of nervous, child-like, simple drawing that gave the book its style. This worked to reflect the fragility of depression and the commonality among all people who suffer depression and try to get away from it.

My_Depression_Tribeca_Film_Festival_2You have a voice cast of several prominent actors including Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver and Fred Armisen.  How did this particular cast come together?
I know Sigourney Weaver from my work at The Flea, which is her husband’s theatre in Tribeca. She has been to see my work and likes it, so I asked her and she was gracious enough to say yes. Fred Armison came through David and Robert. They had met him when they worked on Saturday Night Live, and Steve Buscemi came through HBO. He was working on a movie there and when we asked him, he was so generous and immediately said yes. All three actors were incredibly cooperative, sympathetic, and full of ideas.

Why is the Tribeca Film Festival the right destination for premiering ‘My Depression’ to audiences?
I think that MY DEPRESSION is a rather unusual vehicle. It’s about the lows and terrible challenges of life, and yet it’s funny and it’s animated. It’s very truthful and speaks to everything from medication to psychiatry in honest and satirical ways. Although I believe the film is for everyone, and I’m hoping for that with the book too, it will find a general audience of people who either suffer from depression or know people who do or work with people who do. It’s a good beginning to open the film to the Tribeca audience, which is generous to experimental art and open to the odd way of doing things.

About Elizabeth Swados, David Wachtenheim & Robert Marianetti
David Wachtenheim is a director and animator who began his career with the animated feature, Rover Dangerfield (1991). He has vividly brought to life the art of many well-known illustrators, such as Garry Trudeau, David Levine, Gary Baseman, Barry Blitt, and the legendary Al Hirschfeld. Best known for her Broadway and international hit, Runaways, Elizabeth Swados has composed, written, and directed for over 30 years. Some of her works include the Obie Award-winning, Trilogy at La MaMa, Alice at the Palace with Meryl Streep, and Groundhog. Robert Marianetti is an Animation Producer and Production Supervisor. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, his credits include the Academy Award-nominated children’s short, William Steig’s Dr. DeSoto and the Emmy-nominated, Abel’s Island.

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