After Leah Yananton survived too many #MeToo experiences in college, she began writing the feature film “Surviving Me: The Nine Circles of Sophie.” By the time she finished directing and co-producing the film, Yananton realized that her 10-year project, which was designed to help college students cope with the often hyper-sexual atmosphere on campus, also saved her life.
“Surviving Me,” which will be released to the general public on Nov. 11th, 2018, after 10 years in production, is already helping students navigate the sometimes treacherous sexual waters they must tread in college. That’s because Yananton raised $31,000 on Kickstarter to finance an ongoing college film tour that began in 2017.
In real life and the film, Yananton and main character Sophie (Christine Ryndack) discover that sexual abuse can often come disguised, leaving the victims confused and filled with doubt about who is to blame. In Yananton’s case, a professor plied her with alcohol during office hours held at a bar before manipulating her into having sex in her college apartment. The pretty, green-eyed brunette wrote in her diary, “I guess it was consensual because I invited him back to my place, but why did it feel like rape?”
In “Surviving Me,” Sophie is a poetry major whose moral compass is challenged by new social experiences while she’s trying to study and find a way to pay for her college expenses. As financial and peer pressures suffocate and literally starve Sophie, her intellectual mentor, Professor Slateman (Fredric Lehne), provides a ray of hope. Meanwhile, Slateman’s wife, Jacqueline Slateman (Mira Furlan) seems to take her husband’s pupil under her wing, further increasing Sophie’s sense of confusion. Sophie’s eventual choices lead her deeper into Dante’s Inferno ending with horrific repercussions. But was she to blame? That’s the question “Surviving Me” tries to answer.
Although the movie and Sophie’s experience are not autobiographical to Yananton’s life, her experiences in writing, directing and co-producing “Surviving Me” revealed that the movie-making industry can be just as perilous as college. While working as a wardrobe assistant on a studio feature, a high-ranking producer raped her with his hand. A subsequent female therapist tells Yananton that when one needs a job, one has to put up with that kind of behavior.
That, and other sexual assaults, triggered bouts of depression while Yananton worked on “Surviving Me” for about a decade. “The trauma that I was experiencing was killing me,” says the 30-something West Hollywood resident. By 2012, Yananton became depressed, but a female Orange County therapist finally helped her heal.
Challenges to releasing the movie remained. Male film distributors, for example, insisted that there is no audience for films made by and for women. Undaunted, Yananton raised funds on Kickstarter to take “Surviving Me” to colleges around the nation. At the showings, Yananton discusses the empowerment of women, healthy sex boundaries and the language of consent.
As the college tour continues, “Surviving Me” is being released on November 11th via Section II, a video-streaming platform that showcases work by female and LGBTQ filmmakers. Section II has agreed to donate $1 from each viewing to More Than Me, a nonprofit that provides healthcare and education to girls in Liberia, Africa.
“Surviving Me,” which was the winner of the Projectionist Prize at the Hollywood Film Festival, was nominated for Best Director and Best Feature at the Hollywood Film Festival, La Femme International Film Festival, Beloit Film Festival, Beloit People’s Choice, Outside the Box Office Screening Series at USC, and in New Filmmakers New York at the Anthology Film Archives.
Yananton asks that you respect her privacy regarding the identities of the men who sexually exploited her. #WhyIDidntReport