Review Fix chats with ’Tightly Wound’ director Shelby Hadden who discusses her film and its appearance at the Nashville Film Festival This year.
Tightly Wound is a 10-minute animated film that follows Shelby’s experience with vaginismus; a pelvic floor condition characterized by involuntary contractions of the pelvic floor muscles that tighten the vaginal entrance, causing pain, penetration problems, and inability to have intercourse. It chronicles the various ways it has affected her life – how health professionals have failed her, men have rejected her, and shame, anger, and hatred have plagued her body.
Review Fix: How did this film come to be?
Shelby Hadden: I’d been wanting to make a film about vaginismus for a few years but couldn’t figure out how to make a traditional documentary about it. So many of the physical and emotional experiences around pelvic pain are inherently…internal, and not very visual. I didn’t consider telling my own story until I was in a really bad place about where I was with pelvic floor physical therapy and dating. I felt like I was working so hard to overcome my vaginismus (I was going to PT once a week and doing exercises on my own every day) but since I couldn’t have sex right away, no one would date me! I felt so alone and frustrated and helpless… so I realized the only way I’d feel like I had any control over my situation was if I created something from it. I wanted to share my story to raise awareness as well as allow all those struggling with vaginismus or pelvic floor dysfunction to see their experiences reflected back to them. Eventually, I realized the only way to tell this story was through 2D animation, and the only animator I knew was my friend Sebastian Bisbal, who I went through graduate school with. If he said no, I don’t think I would’ve done it. I wanted to work with him since we were already really close, and I needed to work with someone I could trust on this very personal piece. As it turned out, he said yes immediately.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this film?
Hadden: I learned that I’m stronger than I ever imagined. I started making this film as I was finishing graduate school – I worried that being public about my sex and love life was going to ruin my chances of ever getting a job or dating. Luckily, neither of those turned out to be true. Making a film so personal is really difficult. You have to constantly put yourself out there and take on other people’s heartbreak and stories and a lot of days it felt like WAY TOO MUCH. I have been threatened and trolled online. Every grant or film festival rejection feels, even more, personal – because it feels like not only do they not like the film, but they also don’t like me. But I’ve kept pushing and kept applying/submitting and kept sharing. I’m really proud of myself for that. If you told me 5 years ago that this is what I would be doing, I would have never believed you.
Review Fix: How do you want this film to affect people?
Hadden: I hope it teaches people about pelvic floor dysfunction and start conversations about women’s health, women’s pain, and our expectations around sex and dating.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy your film the most?
Hadden: I think anyone who has ever felt inadequate when it comes to sex, dating, and intimacy will relate to the film, but those who will enjoy it most are going to be those who struggle with vaginismus and other pelvic floor conditions. A huge reason I made this film was that media only portrays sex as easy, fast, and fun. My experiences weren’t reflected back to me, so I decided to be the person to correct that problem. I think it will mean a lot to those who have PFD (pelvic floor dysfunction) that their story (through my own) is out in the world.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of this festival?
Hadden: I am so excited that Tightly Wound is screening at Nashville Film Festival! Nashville is one of the cities I call home, so my parents and my friends will be in the audience. This film is so personal and means so much to me, so I can’t wait to share it with them and celebrate it. My mom lent her voice to the film, so I’m just so happy she’ll get to see it on a big screen.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Hadden: Sebastian and I would really love to make two more animated shorts based on essays I wrote about my experiences related to vaginismus. One of them was recently published in Thought Catalogue: https://thoughtcatalog.com/shelby-hadden/2018/04/why-waiting-until-25-to-lose-my-virginity-was-the-best-decision-i-couldve-made/