GREENWICH, Conn. -- Paul Dalio admits it was his wife, fellow filmmaker Kristina Nikolova, who pushed him to make his first movie personal.
And so "Touched by Fire," which stars Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, deals with bipolar disorder, the illness Dalio suffers from.
Dalio, who grew up in Wilton and attended St. Luke's in New Canaan, admits he was often the socially awkward student in film school due to his illness and cocktail of meds.
But thanks to the competitive (and creative) atmosphere of his classes -- Spike Lee was one of his professors -- as well as the gentle nudging of then classmate (now wife) Nikolova, the love story between two manic depressives always stuck in the back of his mind.
The film, which took three years to make, almost didn't get made as Dalio was working on another, more commerical script. He was also commited to a rap musical that Lee had expressed interest in.
But with the bipolar "personal" story always in the back of his mind, Dalio asked Lee if he could have a month to produce a different script and put a hold on the musical. Luckily, Lee liked it and agreed to help produce it.
The process of writing required Dalio to dig deep into his past, including manic episodes in a variety of hospitals and almost daily suicidal calls to his parents in Greenwich. Finally, the right concoction of meds and transcendental mediation helped stabilize him.
Reading Kay Redfield Jamison's book, "Touched with Fire," which explains how many of the greatest artistic minds in history were bipolar (i.e. Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, Vincent van Gogh) helped inspire him and gave him the title for his film, previously called "Mania Days."
"Bipolar is either a gift or a curse depending on how you handle it," he said. "But there is a way to make it a gift and to make the people who have it feel comfortable and not hide it."
Dialo hopes the film helps destigmatize bipolar disorder and start conversations.
He is thrilled to be showing at the Greenwich Film Festival where his parents live. "They went through it with me," said Dialo who now lives in New York City with his wife and young son. "They are proud of me, not only of the film, but all that I went through to get here."
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.