Private Project

Now Return Us to Normal

Logline: In this ultimately healing personal essay, a filmmaker and her diverse classmates confront the trauma brought on by their years at a behavior modification boarding school.

Pressing ahead to alleviate her crippling PTSD and shame about her time at a behavior modification boarding school, a high-school ice hockey star asks questions for which there most likely will be no answers, attempting to connect the dots of her disjointed memories. She speaks with her parents, former staff, and former classmates - a Latinx dancer; a young professional from NY; a Lakota youth activist; and a lawyer- and have their own varied memories. She questions what kind of youth deserves this treatment, if any. Through this process, like many with PTSD, she wonders if she will ever be a reliable narrator of her own story and if not, how much does that matter?

  • Leslie Koren
    Lessons for the Living, Traces of the Trade (Producer, AP)
  • Laura Heberton
    Freeland, God Bless the Child, When She Runs
  • Sara Newens
    Consulting Editor
    On the Record, Top Spin, Footprint
  • Marc D'Agostino
    Consulting Editor
  • Leslie Koren
    Lessons for the Living, Traces of the Trade (Producer, AP)
  • William Ryan Fritch
    Bull, Freeland, 4.1 Miles, Bill Nye
  • Leslie Koren
  • Alexis Mccrimmon
  • Marc D'Agostino
  • Paul Hill
    Sound Design and Mix
  • Leslie Koren
  • Jen Schneider
    Can We Cool the Planet
  • Geralyn Dreyfous
    Executive Producers
    Academy Award-winning Born Into Brothels; Emmy-nominated The Day My God Died, Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning The Square, Academy Award-nominated and Peabody Award-winning The Invisible War, Miss Representation, Meet the Patels, Anita, In Football We Trust, The Hunting Ground, Dreamcatcher and Alive Inside
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature, Television
  • Genres:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 30 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 27, 2021
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    RED, digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Nevada City Film Festival
    Nevada City
    North American Premiere
    Audience Award winner
  • Middlebury New Filmmakers Film Festival
    August 28, 2021
    New England Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Indie Skyline Film Festival
    September 10, 2021
    Virginia Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Buffalo International Film Festival
    October 9, 2021
    Western New York Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Three Rivers Film Festival

    Official Selection
Director Biography - Leslie Koren

Leslie J. Koren is a filmmaker and artist whose work has been exhibited in print, online and at venues such as the Wexner Studio Film/Video Residency, UnionDocs, Hamptons Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, IFC’s Split Screens, Cleveland International Film Festival to name a few, and distributed through Tribeca Film Institute’s Reframe Collection. She was the recipient of a residency and post-production fellowship from the Wexner Center for the Arts, in Columbus, Ohio, specifically for Now Return Us to Normal. She has worked in film and television production at PBS and A&E Networks and distributed a comedy web series on the festival circuit. She is the recipient of several awards including the Philadelphia Fellowship to the Flaherty Film Seminar and the Harry Friedberg Film Grant through the Philadelphia Psychoanalysis Foundation that fosters significant films highlighting psychoanalytic insights. Leslie has a degree in Anthropology and Jewish Studies from Hampshire College and an MFA in Film and Media Arts from Temple University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Cinema and Television in the Media Arts Department at Robert Morris University, Pittsburgh, PA. She is also 2021 Maker Creator Fellow for her VR project Pioneering Landscapes, about the work and life of early female landscape architect Marion Coffin.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

At 16, I was struck by severe clinical depression and, seemingly overnight, transformed from a healthy, socially-active teenager to someone unable to function. I was put on suicide watch. Overwhelmed by anxiety and leery of institutional options, my parents sent me to the Oakley School, an isolated reform boarding program for “problem youth,” near Park City, Utah. Its glossy brochures promised a radical reversal of dysfunctional behavior – a fixed kid. I went to Oakley voluntarily, but others were taken from their homes by adult escorts and were unable to contact anyone. Twelve years after graduating, I experienced a post-traumatic attack as buried memories flooded to the surface – and this became the catalyst for the film. I began reaching out to classmates, eager to find connections to a shared experience. The deeper I looked, the more complicated the past became.The focus of the film is my confrontation with the trauma of being sent away for my depression. I reunite with four alumni for the first time in over a decade. Intimate character portraits are woven with VHS tape material, dream-like sequences of me skating in ice hockey gear; my parents, trauma specialists and experts in the field, and my own search for answers. As a filmmaker, I am not only interested in the inherent tension of acute trauma, but am equally concerned with its reverberations, which in my experience flow forward in a person’s timeline and often displace pieces of the past. Landscapes and sonic experiences are prominently featured to emphasize the physical and psychological remoteness of being cast away and the difficulty of reconciling the past with the present. Formal choices were made to visually prioritize and ask viewers to listen to graduates speak, while representation of the staff and former faculty of the school remained secondary. The editing concept was to layer the storytelling of the formal interview spaces with verite coverage and visual treatments of my own personal journey. The intent in interviewing my former peers was to piece together their perspectives and weave them into a tapestry that communicates the difficulty assimilating this experience into our adult lives. Some embrace it, while others deny it happened. Whitney, a Latinx dancer, whose self-destructive episodes landed her in four mental institutions; Denise, a young professional, whose severe anxiety stemmed from physical abuse; Karen, a Lakota woman and youth activist, removed from home for her own protection; “Lynn”, a lawyer, disguised in our interview, fearing the stigma of institutionalization could derail her career as an attorney. And me, Leslie a filmmaker, whose severe depression broke my adolescence into separate halves I am, through this film, struggling to reconcile.What distinguishes my film, is a personal look into the mental health of teens driven to the margins of the U.S education and medical system. My directorial approach is to create a storytelling space that inspires teens dealing with these issues to find recognition in the testimony of adults speaking full-voiced about a vulnerable, voiceless time.