Irina Varina: Validating myself

Us, Forever Ago

A guest post by filmmaker Irina Varina, whose film ‘Us, Forever Ago’ screens at Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema on August 8, 2018.

Maybe you’ve experienced it. I know I have. You finish working on a film (a painting, a theater piece, a song, etc.). And then you catch yourself waiting for somebody to tell you that it’s good.

I don’t know what kind of effect it has on other filmmakers (or artists) but with my first feature film, “Us, Forever Ago”, it had a kind of paralyzing one on me. As if I wouldn’t be able to move until a reporter, a critic, an audience member would tell me that I did a good job. And then after somebody did, I would want another reporter, critic, audience member to tell me that again and then again. Was there an end in sight?

But the main thing, well, it was just a really shitty feeling to want that—to wait for somebody, anybody—a person outside of myself—to tell me—an adult—that I was good. Again and again. I mean, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to be liked and needing support. It was the paralyzing part of it that bothered me. The feeling in my body, like, it was a life-or-death situation.

Us, Forever Ago

When I was 18, I was doing a short audition for some acting classes at a famous acting studio. I was very shy, living in my own head, uncomfortable with being vulnerable in public, and crazy about acting, film and theater. After we recited our short pieces, the director and our future teacher gave us his feedback. The only thing he told me, shaking his head in front of everybody was, “Well, everything is clear with Irina.” I tried to save face and said that I just wanted to check if I was any good and let it go if I wasn’t. Apparently, based on his feedback, for some reason. Afterwards, when I was out on the street, I felt like a dead (wo)man walking. Like I had frozen inside forever. I didn’t touch acting for years to come.

Us, Forever Ago

Way into the future, when I was on location acting in an indie film by a director I admired, another curious incident took place. It was a very strained production and it had gotten under some people’s skins in a big way, especially, the director who turned very harsh, judgmental and almost nasty. There was a point when I thought of leaving and buying my plane ticket. But something was stopping me. It wasn’t just an uncomfortable feeling of being an inconvenience that would ruin the production (they would have survived it; also, their bad). So I took myself out for a walk. I asked myself what, if anything, was still there for me. Was I getting any value for myself? And I discovered that I was. Despite everything, I had so much freedom to experiment on that set and try things that interested me. It was one of my artistic priorities at the moment and I was getting it.

I devised a way that worked for me to handle the director too. First, I took it as a given that he wouldn’t be as gracious with me as before and decided to rely on myself and other crew members for care. Then I imagined myself in a big glass house that protected me—from where I could see and hear the director’s words but they wouldn’t hurt me. Knowing that filming would end in two weeks helped too.

Us, Forever Ago poster

Going back to being paralyzed and wanting somebody to tell me I did good. As I was sitting on a couch one night last year waiting for that to happen and feeling pretty shitty, I decided to have a talk with myself. After feeling the feelings, I ended up making a list of everything working on my film, “Us, Forever Ago”, had done for me. It was a long list, full of things I cared deeply about. Like interviewing my women friends about their artistic process, experimenting with film structure, speaking up when working with my sound designer, getting a grant for the first time, finding an awesome woman designer for our posters, becoming a more compassionate person, becoming a more skilled person, making a feature film I liked. Then I asked myself if nobody said or wrote anything good about this film ever, would the above be enough for me to validate myself? And I felt an immediate yes in my body. I did do a good job. To myself.

Curiously enough, but not surprisingly, “Us, Forever Ago” turned out to be about some of these feelings. Our next screening is on August 8 at Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema.

“Us, Forever Ago” – Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema
Wednesday, August 8, 2018 – 1:00pm
United Artists – Midway Theatre (108-22 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, NY 11375)