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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

Mickey and the Bear

by writer/director Annabelle Attanasio

My dad calls writing a voyage of self-discovery.

When I was asked to write a letter about the making of Mickey and the Bear, I asked his advice with how to focus it. He posed a question to me—“What was it in retrospect that you needed to say, or to work out for yourself?” “So look backwards and reflect?” I asked. He replied: “I don’t know for the letter. For life.”

I wrote Mickey and the Bear when I was 21. My parents had split up a year prior. I had spent the better part of my teenage years straining to keep their marriage afloat; to try to fix both their respective and collective unhappiness; to parent my younger siblings. A couple months after I left home, it all collapsed. I felt tremendous guilt that I’d failed them, and rage that they didn’t try harder to keep our family together. The script emerged from the question—what is the line between familial obligation and personal fulfillment?

The research and context of Montana life allowed me to separate myself from the script and craft a story that felt more universal. The social issues of the film grew more important—the lousy care the VA provides vets as they reacclimate; the way our patriarchal world silences young women by boxing them into roles of daughter, wife, and mother; the inextricable link between capitalism, veterans, and the opioid epidemic.

Of course, as filmmakers, we all want things to happen more quickly—but I genuinely feel that each extra stretch of time helped me to grow closer to the story and to heal from my own experiences. The screenplay started as an outlet for unbridled teenage emotion. But over the course of five years (including editing), it grew layered with the restraint and laconic tone of the great American family dramas of the 1970s I hoped to emulate—particularly Paper Moon and Ordinary People, both by the late Alvin Sargent.

But perhaps the most salient shift that came during the course of writing this script took place in my relationship to my dad. We’ll talk on the phone most mornings while he walks the dogs. The conversation always turns to writing—whether it be a movie one of us saw, a book or play one of us read, or how we’re feeling about our current projects. We share such affection for the craft of writing, and the discussion of great writing has become our love language of sorts. He turns 60 this week, the week my film premieres in New York. I can’t help but feel so profoundly lucky to have discovered this point of connection with him at this juncture in both our lives.

The film is dedicated to him.

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