The Year Between explores the intricacies of bipolar disorder as it follows Clemence who is forced to return home from college after alienating those around her. Alex Heller‘s debut as the writer, director and actor premiered to rave reviews at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Co-stars Wyatt Oleff and Emily Robinson joined Heller in a conversation with uInterview founder Erik Meers to discuss the real-life experiences that influenced the film.

“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 19. I left freshman year of college and spent a lot of time figuring out what treatment means, which is a big focus in the movie,” Heller shared. “Around the same time, one of my close friends dropped out of college from mental illness herself and her mom was shortly after diagnosed with breast cancer. This is a very common thing people deal with. It was very emotional for me. I returned to college and as a senior wrote the first draft of the script for a class project. That was seven years ago. A couple of years ago, I dusted it off and started letting a couple of friends read it. From there, I built my life around trying to tell this specific story.”

Heller elaborated on why she felt it important that humor play a role in the film’s addressing of a very serious topic.

“I lean on honesty,” she said. “I think that’s where you can be in a safe space and remain respectful of serious topics while also shedding light on a humorous side of them. There’s nothing about mental illness or how a family might receive it and learn to accept it that is impossible … everything about bipolar disorder is drawn exactly from my life. When in doubt of if I’m pushing a boundary too far, I kind of rested in, ‘Well, this is true on some level.’ I feel like I have the grounds to push the boundary.”

The cast also revealed their hopes for what the audience takes away from the film.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or who you think you are in life,” Robinson said. “Everyone goes through it sometimes and that’s okay. It’s okay to need support and ask for help. This doesn’t have to be your exact story to relate to it and find comfort in knowing everyone goes through. Having empathy for people and yourself is really important.”

“I think Alex making this movie will get people talking about it,” Oleff added. “One of the biggest ways to get people talking about new things and get people comfortable with it is laugh about it and laugh with it instead of being like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I should be laughing, I don’t know how to really treat this.’ Alex does that masterfully with this movie. She balances and walks that line very well. I hope people talk about it and it becomes more of a normal thing instead of something where people are like, ‘I don’t know how to talk about this correctly,’ because obviously there’s not a correct way to talk about it.”

The Year Between is out now in select theaters.

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