When a visit to a PSYCHIC for a $10 palm reading yields an unexpected offer, Benji decides what kind of gamble she’s willing to risk to get rid of what’s inside her.
Interview with Writer/Director Dana Sorman
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! I made my film to heal myself. Some years ago I went to see a psychic for a $10 palm reading because I believed there was something rotten inside of me. I think I was subconsciously seeking confirmation that I was right and that I could trust my intuition. What I wasn’t expecting was an offer to get rid of it.
My father compulsively gambled. I went to Vegas on family vacations 11 times before I was 25. We used to joke that when we couldn’t locate my dad at his job during the week that he must be at his “aquatic office,” which was our codename for the riverboat casino in Hammond, Indiana. You get the picture.
I rarely gambled myself. Maybe an occasional twenty on a spin of the roulette wheel. Yet, I found myself embroiled with a psychic essentially gambling to change my future. My relationship with the psychic continued for over one year and by the end of it I had given $20,000 in cash and jewelry. It was very difficult for me to accept what I did. I felt completely humiliated and ashamed – unrecognizable – as if this was my new identity and anything smart or knowing about me had been erased.
I made this film to help me understand why I felt compelled to do something against my own interest. Why did I become complicit in hurting myself? I tried to take all of my pain and transform it through creation as a way of healing. I hope by doing so, I can give someone else permission to do the same.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Watch this film if you feel compelled to watch this film. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was invited to a lecture at the Kabbalah Centre. I sat in the last pew and listened to a man speak about attraction and never forgot it. He said, “When you feel attracted to someone, that’s your soul needing to course correct with that person.”
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
We made the short as a proof-of-concept for the feature version of the film. Some of what I say here applies to the short and some of it unfolds more broadly in the feature. It is my point of view as the filmmaker that the psychic does have a gift and she is also scamming Benji for money. Similarly, Benji’s Dad (he doesn’t have a name because he’s DAD – an icon not to be questioned, you know, like Jesus or Kim Jong-un) loves Benji but is also abusive towards her. To what extent is a question that plays out more prominently in the feature. So there’s a theme of how to navigate relationships that contain elements of both love and abuse – the kind of relationships that make you question the boundaries of reality.
A close friend is a physicist. When I asked him to tell me his favorite scientific illusion he answered without hesitation: free will. If all the choices that are possible do not even occur to us, how can we have free will? So another theme is: what are the boundaries of our universe? How does this thing work and who is running it? A lot of smart people say it’s our childhood. And I’m like, okay, I hear that, but I do not accept that I have to live the rest of my life according to my childhood programming. I am changing that. I wrote this movie to get the ball rolling.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
Writing the first draft of this screenplay was a terrifying experience. I felt scared the whole time. Imagine my surprise when I finished and read it back and found it absolutely, one-hundred-percent anemic. Dead. Someone once said, “Writing is an energy transference.” I largely agree with that but then where did all my terror go? Why was it not in the computer?
Nevertheless, I realized my first draft was dead because I was afraid I was not entitled to tell my story from my point of view the way it felt as I experienced it. I was afraid I would be told, “No, you’re wrong!” “It didn’t happen like that!” “You are the monster in my story.” I tried to be 100% objectively factual to avoid waking any of the beasts both inside my head and externally-realized through other people. What I accomplished was a book report that wasn’t even good or truthful by anyone’s account, least of all mine.
At the time, the Brock Turner rape case was concluding and I read the court impact statement made by the woman Brock raped (her name is still anonymous and I don’t want to call her a victim because she is my hero). It ripped my chest open in the most frighteningly visceral way. Her words were absolutely masterful. She said what (at the time) I could not even allow myself to conceive. I felt a physical pain resurface underneath my right rib and it did not go away no matter how much hot yoga I did. So I told part of my story in the form of a post on Facebook. And then I cried and screamed in my car and banged on my kitchen cabinets and then sat at a picnic table outside of my grocery store and tore into my first draft book report and turned it into a movie. My movie.
What type of feedback have you received so far? Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
After our premiere in Marfa, there was a line of people waiting to tell me, “me, too.” I wasn’t necessarily surprised, because after I woke up from my psychic-coma, I spent a lot of time on message boards reading about other people’s experiences and found that my trauma was not unique. I was not the only one. I’m happy to be part of bringing the conversation out of the message board shadows so we can connect with each other.
I have received some feedback echoing some of my fears listed in my answer to the prior question. I tried to field that feedback with grace and not allow my fear to stop me from continuing. Part of what I love in the first season of TRANSPARENT is the domino-effect ignited when Maura comes out to her family and reveals her truth. Everyone surrounding her begins to re-examine their own identify and truth as they reconcile their past experiences with this new information and their pain both buried and present.
When we tell our stories, it’s like shifting a tectonic plate. When I first learned how to set boundaries from a therapist, I thought that no one could argue with me about them, like it was my magic cape! I am saying everything psychologically and grammatically correct right now therefore you cannot get mad. But that’s not the contract. There is always a ripple effect. And whether it's an earthquake, a wave or a tsunami; it won’t kill us (probably) and it will subside (definitely).
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
It’s an honor to share my story with anyone who desires to hear it and become a part of someone's thought process or creative art-making.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We are actively seeking investors to finance the feature-length version of the film. The script is complete and ready to shoot.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I was asking myself this question two months ago. Then I met a woman who works as a psychiatric librarian and teacher in a hospital in Montreal. We had the most enlightened conversation I have ever experienced with a medical professional about the connection between disease and the condition of our spirit and the blind spots in the medical community. She said they have movie nights at her hospital. We discussed the possibility of screening PSYCHIC, and I nearly burst into tears at the possibility of a film I made to heal myself potentially contributing to the healing of someone else or maybe even affecting our institutions of healing. In my wildest dreams that is the impact of my work.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Are we inside a brilliant computer program in which everything that happens is a reflection of our internal reality, and is an opportunity for us to become more whole?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I’m developing a second feature about a young chef who develops tongue cancer on the eve of opening what will become the best restaurant in the world. It’s about inherited pain; the connection between disease and the condition of our spirit; and healing ourselves through creation. I also just completed a draft of a short I intend to shoot on film about a traumatized tour guide upholding the last will and testament of a dead, abusive artist.
You can read more about me and my work on my website www.danasorman.com.
Interview: July 2018
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When a visit to a PSYCHIC for a $10 palm reading yields an unexpected offer, BENJI decides what kind of gamble she’s willing to risk to get rid of what’s inside her.
Director: Dana Sorman
Producer: Ian Keiser and Katie White
Writer: Dana Sorman
About the writer, director and producer:
DANA SORMAN is a filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist. She’s preparing to direct her first feature based on her short PSYCHIC.
KATIE WHITE worked with the Sundance Institute as their panels producer for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival; and she produced the Time, Inc. & Netflix Original Documentary, THE MARS GENERATION (Sundance 2017).
IAN KEISER is part of Easy Open Productions, an independent film production company focused on financing and digitally distributing micro budget feature length films.
Key cast: Dana Sorman, Sadieh Rifai, Leah Kaplan, Michael Canavan, Nelson Lee, Denice Lee
Looking for: financial investors for the feature-length version of the short.
Funders: Easy Open Productions
Where will it screen next? The Museum of Modern Art on Sunday, July 29 at 7pm as part of a new curatorial program—The Future of Film is Female.