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93 min. English.

Sometimes Madeline is a cat, sometimes a turtle. But even when she’s Madeline, it’s hard to tell if she’s just playing the role of Madeline. In the eyes of her anxious mother (Miranda July), she is a vulnerable creature whose obvious mental disorder requires care and medical treatment. But on stage, at the theatre workshop run by the extremely demanding, sometimes even reckless Evangeline (Molly Parker), Madeline is strong, impressive – a force of nature.
Director Josephine Decker equally demands everything of her fantastic actress, Helena Howard. Her third feature film sounds out both the healing and potentially destructive powers of performance, what happens when you play around with roles and identities. Like Madeline herself, Madeline’s Madeline remains ambiguous. Do we really need to define what’s a mental illness and what is simply the rebelliousness of a teenager? How do we draw the line between love and overprotectiveness? In a legitimate artistic process in which everyone is giving and taking, where lies the threshold to exploitation? Does creativity even exist without destruction? (Christoph Terhechte)

Josephine Decker was born in London in 1981. After earning a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature and creative writing at Princeton University, she studied literature, film studies and political science in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She began shooting her own short films in 2003. Today she works as a screenwriter, director, editor, and producer. In 2017, she shot the VR film The Nothing is Coming in Berlin.

How to define my own story?

For the last twenty years, someone extremely close to me has battled a variety of disorders – depression, OCD, anxiety, bulimia, and recently, a severe case of depersonalisation disorder. I have watched her long struggle through AA meetings, sober living, rehab centres and now, her terrific part-time job, a fruitful artistic career and a daily struggle to feel that her life is not ‘a movie’.
Three years ago, while judging a teen arts festival in New Jersey, I watched a lone sixteen-year-old stand up, introduce herself and deliver a monologue about a young woman standing up to an older abuser. Though I had a single minute to deliver my feedback, I sat literally speechless. I finally said, ‘That was the best performance I have ever seen in my life’, and began to cry. She began to cry. The audience of high schoolers watched, confused.
That sixteen-year-old – Helena Howard – and I partnered up to go down the rabbit hole and discover how to translate a story of mental illness, of inner chaos, into a film. What resulted was not what we expected.
Helena and I spent two years alongside a cadre of talented actors improvising to develop MADELINE’S MADELINE. Our project follows the charged relationship between teen Madeline and her controlling, anxious mother. Madeline, struggling to define herself, finds solace in acting with director Evangeline and her troupe as they create a work of devised theatre. As Evangeline and Madeline grow closer, however, Evangeline weaves Madeline’s complicated inner life into her piece, and Madeline, with her extraordinary talent, takes the performance off the stage and asks a new question: embrace someone else’s version of me? Or define my own story?
This film launches out from mental illness and family dynamics to explore the complications that arise when you try to build a story inspired by a living person’s real life. Our film is a commentary on its own process, on the messy power dynamic that results when a white director collaborates with a teenage woman of colour. It offers a conversation on race, on privilege and on storytelling itself. We aim to speak to anyone fighting to choose their identity rather than have it chosen; anyone struggling with or alongside mental illness; all who listen. And mostly, we ask the audience to make their own decisions about the issues in the film. Leading with wonder and imagination, we also present the dark potential of Madeline’s reality. You decide how to embrace the complex ambiguity of her experience; you decide what and who, if anything, ‘wins’. (Josephine Decker)

Production Krista Parris, Elizabeth Rao. Production company Parris Pictures (New York, USA). Written and directed by Josephine Decker. Director of photography Ashley Connor. Editing Josephine Decker, Harrison Atkins. Music Caroline Shaw. Sound design Martin Hernandez, Alejandro Quevedo. Sound Dennis Rainaldi. Production design Charlotte Royer. With Helena Howard (Madeline), Miranda July (Regina), Molly Parker (Evangeline), Okwui Okpokwasili (Nurse, KK), Sunita Mani (Assistant Max), Felipe Bonilla (Santos, Cousin Elmer), Lisa Tharps (Laura), Curtiss Cooke (George), Reynaldo Piniella (Jaime), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Kaila).

World sales Visit Films


2005: Naked Princeton (29 min.). 2008: Bi the Way (85 min., co-directed by Brittany Blockman). 2011: Me the Terrible (11 min.). 2014: Butter on the Latch (72 min., Forum 2014), Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (76 min., Forum 2014). 2017: The Nothing is Coming (10 min.). 2018: Madeline’s Madeline.

Photo: © Ashley Connor

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur