I Believe in Unicorns

I Believe in Unicorns

The history of cinema is littered with career defining debuts. From Orson Welles’ seismicCitizen Kane to François Truffaut’s autobiographical The 400 Blows; from Terrence Malick’s poetic Badlands to Martin Scorsese’s raw Whose That Knocking On My Door? They don’t come often, but when they do, it is a cause for celebration, and here to join that chorus is Leah Meyerhoff ’s intimate and profound I Believe in Unicorns.

I Believe in Unicorns follows Davina (Natalia Dyer), a sixteen-year-old girl who is singlehandedly taking care of her mother, Toni (played by the director’s mother, Toni Meyerhoff ) who is bound to a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis. But as earthbound as Toni is, Davina is not, often taken by imaginative daydreams and flights of fancy. Flights that manifest physically with the appearance of Sterling (Peter Vack), an older boy who is pure punk rock and palatable sexuality, yet he isn’t any less troubled than Davina.

I Believe in Unicorns is unabashedly a coming-of-age tale, intertwining Davina’s fantasies with her burgeoning sexual desires. It is in these moments that Meyerhoff ’s knack for emotion excels. Rather than paint these nubile moments in a golden hue of nostalgia and forced profundity, Meyerhoff wraps her protagonist in desire and uncertainty, unleashing both carnally and violently.

Meyerhoff achieves these moments by visualizing her story in three different forms, the first involving the cinematography and direction of the actors, which was shot over the course of three weeks on Super 16mm. Once principal photography wrapped, Meyerhoff and her cinematographer, Jarin Blaschke, received a grant from Tribeca, which they used to film experimental and time-lapse shots of nature, shots that are sprinkled throughout the movie. Finally, Meyerhoff cannibalized the actor’s costumes (notably Sterling’s leather jacket) to make small dolls, which she used to create stop-motion animation, beautifully dramatizing Davina’s inner struggle. All three forms meld together beautifully, adding even more personality to a movie that is already steeped in handmade care.

For I Believe in Unicorns, Meyerhoff draws both from personal experience, as well as personal desires. When the film played at the Starz Denver Film Festival, Meyerhoff said in a Q&A that the film not only expresses her own experience, but it also functions as the kind of movie she wished she could have seen as young girl. This embrace of the alternative experience makes I Believe in Unicorns not simply a reflective movie, but an inspirational one as well.

You only get one first impression, and directors only get one debut. For many, this debut comes and goes without much fanfare. Their mastery of aesthetic, personality and technique develops and deepens as they grind out movies one after the other. Yet, there are a few who come to the camera fully formed and ready to take the medium in the next logical direction. Meyerhoff is that direction. With fingers firmly crossed, I Believe in Unicorns will break through and connect with as wide an audience as possible, if for no other reason than to give Meyerhoff another crack behind the camera.

— Michael J. Casey, Boulder Weekly

I Believe in Unicorns

Wed April 22, 2015, 7:30 only, Muenzinger Auditorium

USA, 2014, English, Color, 80 min, DP, 1.66:1, NR • official site



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cover art for Spring 2 2022
Virtual titles to stream from home

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Sprocket Damage
: Sprocket Damage digs deep(ish) into current and classic films and film-related subjects to bring to you insightful, humorous, and enlightening perspectives on the industry.

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists