Local filmmaker Vanessa Leonard makes Hollywood debut

. March 10, 2020.

A Story Worth Living

Local actress and filmmaker Vanessa Leonard has been involved in the Toledo film scene for many years— playing roles ranging from a vampire to a military official, and everything in between. Now she is truly making her mark, having written a screenplay that she then directed and starred in— A Story Worth Living. The film, which is shot primarily in Toledo, features a local cast, crew and a soundtrack that includes music by local band Southbound Fearing.

With its recent world premiere at the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles for the Golden State Film Festival, A Story Worth Living is reaching a broader audience than Leonard ever thought possible.

“I still can’t believe it, to be honest,” she says. “Features are insanely difficult to get accepted in festivals because most of the films are between five and 15 minutes long. It’s just way easier to program and schedule shorter films than a 97-minute film [like A Story Worth Living].” When she received a call from the Festival’s director from Malibu, Leonard knew she was right to hold out hope— this was her chance to present her labor of love to the world.

Allison’s story

A Story Worth Living is Leonard’s first time writing and directing a feature length film. She always knew that she should be the one to play the leading role of Allison, a young woman who is weaning herself off medication, dealing with mental health issues and falling in love. Allison’s day-to-day reality becomes even more tangible for audiences, who are presented with the main character’s reactions through the lens of her diary.

“She’s trying to find out who she is while also falling in love with this new romantic interest,” says Leonard. “I have a strong passion for acting, and I wanted to push myself into a raw character because my roles in the past haven’t been this relatable.” Rather than waiting for the right role to come around, Leonard decided to write the story she wanted to see on the screen.

From the beginning, her goal was to make the story about mental health, a subject that “hits home for me in a lot of ways,” she explains. “I have friends who deal with borderline personality disorders and depression. In my early 20s, I even struggled. It went undiagnosed, unfortunately. I was seeking help for it and I’m pretty open about it now.”

Spreading awareness

Leonard also found depictions of mental health disorders in film to be disturbing in that they typically only show the extremes that sell: stories about psychopathic killers, stalkers and the like. What would it be like to tell a story about a college student who is living a relatively normal life while learning to cope with her problems?

“One in five people have mental illness— a very high statistic,” Leonard says. “That just shows that for many of your family, friends and coworkers, this is everyday life. I just wanted to make something that was real, authentic and relatable.”

Leonard looks to schedule a local premiere for A Story Worth Living in the fall. Find the trailer on YouTube. To learn more about how to support the film through sponsorship, contact publicist, Ginny Ferris, at ginnyf@vex.net.