Surviving Me: The 9 Circles of Sophie is written and directed by Leah Yananton. When a sexual identity crisis causes college junior Sophie to lose her moral compass, she embarks on a journey of self- discovery through her own experience of Dante's Inferno to find redemption. The film stars Mira Furlan (Lost), Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire). Fredric Lehne (Lost), and Christine Ryndak as "Sophie."
I made SURVIVING ME because I found from my own experience as an undergrad, that the pressure on our college campuses for women to be hypersexual is damaging to everyone. During my college years in post 9-11 NYC, the world around me stopped making sense and the social scene was full of chaos and escapism, yet in my Medieval poetry class I was reading themes that related to present day. My peers were testing the limits of defying convention regarding sexuality and traditional relationship values, asserting that being liberated meant you were superior to consequences. However, I had the feeling that I had fallen into the River Styx and was swiftly sinking to the bottom. In order to find solid ground, I had to fight for boundaries and integrity and I brought my battle into writing the script. Dante’s Inferno was a constant companion with its focus on behavior and consequences, and SURVIVING ME became a reflective creative journey.
About the Filmmaker
Leah Yananton began her film career as the camera intern for Spike Lee on his movie BAMBOOZLED, and on Marc Levin & Mark Benjamin's BROOKLYN BABYLON starring Tariq Trotter & The Roots. Additional credits include THE CHRIS ROCK SHOW, THE SECRET WINDOW starring Johnny Depp, and numerous documentaries that took her around the globe for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and HBO. Yananton also appeared in Steven Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS. She has directed several short films that have played at numerous festivals. Yananton was awarded grants from New York Foundation for the Arts & The Fund for Creative Communities to direct the documentary MANHATTANVILLE: A NEIGHBORHOOD UNDER SIEGE (32 min) which chronicled Columbia University’s controversial expansion into her West Harlem neighborhood. MANHATTANVILLE screened at the Harlem Film Festival, Girl Fest Hawaii, and L.A. Shorts Fest, and continues to be screened by the Columbia community and West Harlem neighborhood to facilitate dialogue. Yananton also made LANDESCAPES, a 6-hour performance art video installation commissioned by the cWOW Gallery in Newark.
Yananton received her B.F.A. from Columbia University where she received the Stephen Ades Award for Creative Writing, as well as a scholarship from the Ministry of Education of Taiwan, to study Mandarin Chinese. While studying in Taipei, she wrote and directed her first bilingual short film BAOZHI/THE NEWSPAPER. Returning to New York, Yananton co-wrote and directed “The Naked Show,” the full length off-off Broadway political satire about college activism and mainstream media in the wake of 9-11 and the start of the Iraq War.
Yananton is also an alumna of the acclaimed Neighborhood Playhouse for acting in the Meisner Technique taught by James Brill, and of Lenore Dekoven's prestigious directing program Our Workshop East (alumni include Ang Lee and Kim Pierce), also in New York.
As a performer, Yananton appeared regularly at The Groundlings Theatre in the Catmilk Show under the direction of founder Gary Austin. She has been a member of Rob Watzke’s Turbine Arts & SHPLOTZ! improvisational theater company, with weekly performances featuring special guests such as Helen Slater, Helen Hunt, and Jason Alexander.
SURVIVING ME is Yananton's first feature, and it has been hailed as "Masterful storytelling" by The Art of Monteque, "Refreshingly relatable" by Next Projection, and deemed "a fascinating and important film" byBustle [dot] com. Leah is also developing an environmental justice documentary IN OUR BACKYARD, about the municipal polluting of an African American community in Georgia. Her next narrative feature deals with the problem of commercial exploitation of sexuality in West Hollywood, and is currently in development.
“I was completely amazed by the quality of the script, the quality of writing and the complexity of my role. I recognize all the issues and problems and topics from my own youth. And then the other side, these two female characters. Scripts rarely have such great roles for women. To have a role that has the vulnerability and femininity that is not bitchy or mean, but is tough: unresolved issues with her husband and death of a child, incredibly complex, full, beautifully written. Leah knows how to write dialogue—she writes beautiful scenes for actors, she writes interesting, complex unusual characters, and the script just amazed me. I haven’t read anything like it.
There are many aspects to this movie; that’s why it’s so good. Its complexities are admirable. I am really amazed that such a young person as Leah can write something with so much depth and wisdom. I am very pleased to be a part of it.” - Mira Furlan
“This is one of the best scripts I have read in a while. A girl’s coming-of-age, struggle. It touched me and the script is story-driven. Jimmy is an interesting character for me, because I’m from Queens and he’s not from a big city— his sincerity drew me to the character. You read the script and you see his arc and purpose existentially, how he drives the theme, and why he’s where he is, and why he’s drawn to Sophie, a girl who ends up crossing boundaries with every single relationship she’s in. We see in our society all these tabloids of young girls using sex as some tool to get what they want, objectifying themselves, but they are hurt by it the worst; even if it is just out of insecurity, there is something that needs to be addressed and Leah does so with the story of SURVIVING ME. Leah is a great writer. The whole film is the journey of this one girl taking responsibility for her behavior.” -Vincent Piazza
“What attracted me to the script was the point of view and the sensibility it expressed toward the human condition, the duality of the human condition. And in the script it’s discussed in the writings of Ovid and St. Augustine, and experienced through Dante’s Inferno, a man’s humanness, his carnal nature, his flesh versus Augustine’s puritanical view of the spirit, and that’s our struggle as humans: good and evil, flesh or spirit. And here is the story of a young woman who sprouts in the middle of this garden and has to deal with it. A young woman who’s passions are untamed, and she runs into a man whose passions have been tamed too long, and they dance together trying to find balance in their lives. That’s what I liked about the script— it’s nice human stuff with compelling needs and desires that are kind of uncomfortable to deal with, but it’s natural life and death stuff— no threatening violence or murder. It’s nice to just deal with emotions and just kiss the girl.” - Fredric Lehne
“It’s just like anybody trying to find out who she is. College is the place where you experience these things because you are on your own. Sophie is a bright girl but grew up kind of abandoned by her parents, so she’s in a total struggle to find her identity. While she is well-intentioned, she is looking for approval from people and for love, but she gets into some trouble with her fear of abandonment and fear of disappointing people and confusing her sexuality with security. She takes out a lot of her issues that she hasn’t dealt with her parents in other ways in her life. The story takes place over a difficult ten days in Sophie’s life, but it’s a huge coming-of-age, and by the end of the movie she has understood that they only way to move forward and have a healthy relationship or to be honest with herself in any way she will have to resolve what’s broken in her heart with her parents. At first glance, it seems she is a manipulative person, or deliberate, but for me it was about understanding sincerely not how she fails at her relationships, but how she’s trying to succeed, how she’s trying to connect to people, but it’s not from the healthiest place. She escapes in different ways with each relationship, with Kiera, Jimmy, Professor Slateman and Jacqueline—but there is a real person in Sophie and her crisis is familiar.” - Christine Ryndak