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Synopsis: Poppy Valentine, a young circus performer who has grown up in her family’s traveling circus, has never dreamed of what life would be like outside of its fences. However, now in her mid-20s and with more unwelcomed responsibility from her father and their community weighing her down, she’s desperate to figure out if this planned life is for her. As she slowly begins to take time for herself, finding independence and even love, she strains her relationship with those around her in the tight-knit circus world. In the end, amidst her overprotective father, stressful circus expectations, and her blossoming curiosity for a life of independence, she must find a way to be happy.





Run Time

88 minutes


Katherine Waddell (Poppy Valentine)
Ilia Volok (Dark Valentine)
Michael David Wilson (Drew)
Danielle Baez (Lala)
Erin Rae Li (Sadie)

Directed by

Em Johnson

Written by

Em Johnson

Produced by

Ruvi Leider
Monica O'Hara

Edited by

Greg Tuzin


Alexa Borden
Connor Cook


Megan Stacey

Director's Statement

Balloon Animal is a story grounded in fantasy and realism set against the backdrop of a lackluster circus and a vibrant small town. While the circus evokes feelings of whimsy and excitement, this film challenges those notions in a visual and thought-provoking way. By presenting, as the eyes of our story, the perspective of a woman who has fallen out of love with the circus because she’s seen behind the curtains, we give our audience context and reason as to why the fantasy no longer exists. Balloon Animal plays with identity, independence, familial expectations, and sacrifice themes. Throughout Poppy’s journey of rebellion and self-discovery, we are introduced to the burdens that lead her to sacrifice relationships in order to take back her own future and freedoms.

My films are drawn from personal experience, which is in no way unusual. For the last five years, I’ve been driven by my love of the human condition, touching on how tragic, yet beautiful, it can be. In particular, I focus on love and heartbreak, gender inequality, and family dynamics. Each character is flawed, struggles, and responds to situations in a unique and profound way. My goal is to study those characters, analyzing everything about them to build an infinite amount of depth to showcase them on the screen in an authentic, yet cinematic way.

With all this said, I keep this story close to my heart. And, while the story can be universally understood and highlights my strengths as a director, it also gives us a protagonist who faces obstacles that could relate to any twenty-something-year-old.

Director's Bio

Em is a 30-year-old award-winning filmmaker based out of Los Angeles. Em started her film career by working alongside her friends in a self-founded production company that worked recreationally, creating music videos and shorts, as well as commercially, creating adverts and promotions for businesses. Quickly, she moved on to short and feature narrative projects once enrolled in her MFA program and thereafter wrote and directed her first narrative feature, Blush (unreleased). Balloon Animal is her second narrative feature, which she wrote and directed under her new production company, First Bloom Films, LLC.

Production Year


Official Website




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