When I'm Her

Michael was a ballet prodigy with his career ahead of him, but when life doesn’t go as planned, he finds refuge from trauma and liberation as his alter ego, Russian ballet instructor, Madame Olga.

ballet instructor staring in the mirror
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
June 21, 2021
14:30 minutes
Funding Initiative
Short-Form Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2021 Cleveland International Film Festival-Best LGBTQ+ Short
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2021 Rotterdam International Film Festival-Best Documentary Short
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2021 Dumbo Film Festival-Best Short Documentary
  • filmmaker Emily Schuman

    Emily Schuman

    Emily Schuman is a documentary director and producer. Her directorial debut, When I'm Her, follows the double life of a dancer, as he inhabits his alter ego, Madame Olga. Most recently, Emily worked with Sarah Colt Productions where she produced The Disrupted (DOK.Fest Munich, International premiere) and True Believer (streaming on The Atlantic). Show more Prior to working with Sarah Colt, Emily was an Associate Producer on The Witmans and Lift, two documentary features directed by David Petersen. Emily's career began as a camera assistant and a member of IATSE Local 600. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dog Mona. Show less

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    The Film

    Michael Cusumano was a luminary figure at American Ballet Theatre in New York, and had a stellar career ahead of him. But trauma from his past prevented him from fully realizing his artistic and professional potential. Over time, he finds refuge and liberation by assuming an alter ego: a sparkly turban-wearing, Russian ballet instructor named Madame Olga. By slipping into this ostentatious character, Michael discovers a way to both embrace himself as an artist and reconcile his past. Michael and Olga challenge the unspoken rule of dance: to be a disciplined dancer is to be an obedient dancer. Olga challenges authority, taking on a life of her own and generating a following for her unconventional ballet classes. Through Olga, Michael is able to give aspiring dancers a place to flourish, and can be the mentor he never had for himself. When I'm Her follows the double life of a dancer as he inhabits his alter ego, and observes Michael and Olga in their most vulnerable moments.