Barely Breathing

A terrifying and lonely deep-dive into the mind of a woman with anxiety.

Flickering in and out of the void, the unnamed main character descends into a state of anxiety. She does anything she can to stave off the triggering images of thoughts she’d rather forget, cracking her knuckles and her back. She finally succeeds with three power snaps of her fingers, and we’re left in silence. But it all comes back, like the rumbling of an overwhelming oncoming storm that terrifies the main character to the point that she falls to the ground like lightning. The images become inescapable, appearing with an incredible speed until all she can think about is a way to end it all. Then it all disappears, and she is alone, vulnerable in this sudden moment of peace. Everything will be okay… for now.

  • Atlas A Lee-Reid
  • Anneliese Lee-Reid
  • William Zhou
  • Katarina Zhu
    Key Cast
    "Main Character"
  • Diamante Selvaggia Messi
    1st Assistant Director
  • Jenny Chan
    Director of Photography
  • Elizabeth Crowl
    Production Designer
  • Emma Taubner
  • Keira Simmons
    Sound Designer
  • Project Type:
    Experimental, Short
  • Genres:
    Horror, Experimental, Video Art, Psychological
  • Runtime:
    4 minutes 11 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    September 17, 2018
  • Production Budget:
    500 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - New York University
  • Oaxaca Film Festival
    Oaxaca de Juarez
    October 6, 2019
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Atlas A Lee-Reid

Atlas A Lee-Reid (they/he) is a film director and animator based in Brooklyn, NY. Raised in Minnesota, their creative career began in stage acting at the age of six, which evolved into directing short plays in high school and led them to graduating with a BFA in Film & Television from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2018. Spanning across a variety of mediums, from 35mm film to radio and hand-drawn rotoscope animation, their work focuses on the complicated relationships born in families and communities that can span generations and deeply affect how we see and experience the world.

Atlas’s senior thesis film, “Dinner With George”, won the Géza Decsy Memorial Memorial Production Award in 2019, and they recently traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to screen their video art piece, “Barely Breathing”.
Anneliese’s most recent short film, “Dinner With George”, won the Géza Decsy Memorial Production Award in 2019, and they recently traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to screen their video art piece, “Barely Breathing”.

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Director Statement

“Barely Breathing” was born out of the intense anxiety and depression that has plagued my life since high school. Due to the lack of conversation about the specifics of anxiety, I thought this was just something strange that I was experiencing, some weird Anneliese-ism that would eventually go away. Going into college, it became so difficult that I couldn’t write papers because I couldn’t stop cracking my knuckles and my chest hurt from breathing so deeply to calm myself. I began seeing a therapist after four years, and this time of self-reflection lent itself to the creation of this project.

To prepare for “Barely Breathing”, I began a list of my symptoms and the specific situations in my life that caused them. It was very strange making that list. Some of it was very easy to write down, symptoms that I knew I had experienced and had already started to figure out how to deal with, but much of it was more difficult to write. Soon the list became almost a textbook of my life, and with all of the words laid out before me, I could begin to think about this project more from a creator’s point of view, a director trying to bring a film to life.

At this point I began to work on the visual storytelling. Originally meant as a video art installation, the work was meant to be shown on a semicircle of vertical screens. The center three screens would show the main character and all of the symptoms of her anxiety, the elements of this mental illness that people actually see, but don’t necessarily understand. The side screens would present the corresponding anxiety-triggering situations. While the main character would interact with the sides of the room, and be affected by them, the viewer would have to actually physically turn and look at the walls, showing that the world must consciously look deeper at the causes of anxiety in those around them. Taking place in the all-encompassing void of a studio space, the film portrays the beginning, middle, and end of an anxiety attack.

Due to the effect that sound can have on those experiencing anxiety, I was in constant contact with my sound designer, Keira Simmons, from the beginning of pre-production. Know as a soundscape designer, Keira was able to work with me to create the overall tone of the piece and assign means to every sound that can be heard, from the sudden knocks on doors to the quickening, anxiety-inducing hyperventilation. This sound design, in concert with the incredibly talented efforts of my editor, Emma Taubner, made this film great, and I found that the overwhelming effect it had on the viewer would be better experienced in a traditional cinematic format, while still honoring the multiple screens by creating a 16:9 triptych.

This film is meant to call attention to the lives of those who experience intense anxiety and depression, and how important it is to talk to others and reach out for help if needed. The entire process was incredibly healing for me, and I am very excited for others to gain insight into the lives of people like me.