On Fear, Sometimes (When It's Dark Outside) & Fearless Playfulness

Lilena Marinou is an Athens-born, New York City-based photographer and filmmaker.

Lilena graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Film Production and has worked at Elara Pictures on an unreleased HBO comedy series, and is currently working with Oscar Boyson.

In this feature, Lilena Marinou shares with writer and TQAF team member Dominic Sylvia Lauren how she approaches fear in her life, the manifestation of trauma and how it impacts her work, as well as the anxieties surrounding her status as an ‘immigrant’ in the US.

Lilena’s short film, Oh Yeah, is currently on view at Thessaloniki Queer Arts Festival’s (TQAF) 2020 edition that explores the theme, “what is fear? τι είναι φόβος;”

Dominic Sylvia Lauren: What has your experience been as an ‘immigrant’? Has this experience influenced your practice?

Lilena Marinou: This is somewhat of a bittersweet story. Immigrants have to work twice as hard (if not more) to prove themselves worthy. Finding and securing work is tougher, having your visa’s expiration date constantly on your mind is exhausting and all these insecurities hinder you from feeling like you belong. On the other hand, this kind of pressure worked as a catalyst; it pushed me well beyond my limits into uncharted waters of my creativity. I genuinely felt like I grew every single day since the moment I stepped foot in New York, which I find very beautiful.

DSL: We spoke about trauma quite a bit; could you tell me how you approach / study / understand trauma in your work?

LM: Trauma is deeply personal. My creativity mostly stems from how I guard my tenderness. I am a sensitive person, traumatized to some extent just like everyone else or rather showing some cracks of trauma. The way I protect myself is most indicative of my work.

I am not particularly aggressive and so that does not come off in my work either. I don’t kick back at trauma. Instead I try to make peace with what troubles me, because if I approach it with love, I think I heal faster and with less pain. I really felt that in my latest short film, SOMETIMES (when it’s dark outside). It is about the duality that comes with fear, a grounding familiarity and an asphyxiating need to liberate from it.

SOMETIMES (when it’s dark outside)

is Lilena’s most recent “love letter to fear.” Created with 16mm short-ends on a Kodak 7222, SOMETIMES is an intimate and eerily beautiful short film about how fear manifests when night falls, when the movement stops and the silence settles in. SOMETIMES fleetingly and deliberately documents the grace, resilience and tenderness it takes to address what one fears most.


“Fear manifests in me through the dark. I’ve felt like my early 20’s have often been a traffic of time that I had to walk through blindfolded. Everything felt too monumental, too out-of-reach, too new, too impermanent, I was at a complete loss of control. Such sentiments like to settle together, to overlap, to come in and out of your life. It was the kind of asphyxiating fear that never left your side, that made you afraid of love and passion but also the lack thereof. These years had a flighty, transitory quality which provoked a sense of darkness outside, day and night. And so I sat, alone, quietly feeling afraid.”

Fear, as it is illustrated in SOMETIMES, can be overwhelming, crippling, and suffocating. A darkness that is all-consuming; an infectious agent that distorts and distracts. But how do we overcome fear? What happens when we learn to mould our anxieties and allow our fears to lead us to new trajectories?

Oh Yeah

is an antidote to fear and a celebration of fearlessness. Centred on the idea of “fearless playfulness,” Oh Yeah illustrates a young woman’s experience in giving herself pleasure and receiving pleasure from others too. In doing so, she “discovers that the body is very much like a playground,” Lilena explains.

“It was important to me that sex was presented like a game because its most beautiful sentiment is the lightheartedness of it all. Sometimes, fear is used as a weapon against sexuality; young people are terrorised by puritan (and other extreme religious) beliefs, the media grossly misrepresents it and oftentimes this creates false shortcomings about what sexual encounters should be like.” 

“Gradually, I learn to love [my fears]. The only way to live with fear, is to love it too. My fear does not need aggression, it needs tenderness. It needs to be embraced deeply and gracefully. And then it grows into a thing of beauty.”

You can follow Lilena’s work on her Instagram, Vimeo and Website