Local film aimed at breaking stigma of mental illnessGinger Spiess and her six young brothers and sisters didn’t understand why their mother would often retreat emotionally and physically from family gatherings, or why she burst into tears at the dinner table almost daily.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Ginger Spiess and her six young brothers and sisters didn’t understand why their mother would often retreat emotionally and physically from family gatherings, or why she burst into tears at the dinner table almost daily.
Tani Hemmila felt alone and afraid when, after the birth of her second child, she experienced crying jags in which she couldn’t stop weeping, and sometimes was unable to get out of bed in the morning.
The powerful stories the two women have to tell about how depression affected their lives and all those around them are the substance of a locally produced documentary film that premiered this week.
Audiences in Cloquet, Moose Lake, Grand Marais and Duluth previewed the stunningly personal look at mental illness this week called “Look it in the Eye.”
The film, commissioned and funded through the Human Development Center of Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin, was produced by award-winning independent documentary producer Dan Woods of Superior.
Its straightforward intent: to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness by getting people to talk about it.
“Stigma is a major barrier to people seeking help when they need it,” said Jim Gruba, HDC executive director. “That’s why this film is so important. We want people to understand mental illness and join a dialogue in our community. The more people know, the better they can help themselves or help their loved ones get the help and support they need. Education is an important part of HDC’s mission.”
The film features the frankly told stories of two local families whose lives have been affected by mental illness.
“Going in front of a camera and telling others about your experience with mental illness can be a real ‘gulp,’ ” admitted Woods. “These people certainly aren’t doing it for the money or exposure — they’re doing it to help other people understand what they’re going through.”
The 30-minute documentary film represents two years of work, which began in summer 2008 when HDC Foundation director Kim Matteen first contacted Woods after seeing the work he did on another film, “No Losers,” about the New San Marco Apartments in Duluth for recovering alcoholics.
After preliminary discussions, Woods agreed to work on the project. He spent the first three to four months researching the subject matter online and making sure he had the “big picture” before holding extensive conversations with people with a number of different mental health experiences. From there, he interviewed various people on camera to use as a foundation for the film, including Carlton County residents Ginger Spiess and Tani and Dave Hemmila, whose stories about dealing with depression are featured in the film.
Woods said that because about 85 percent of their stories take place in the past, he decided the only way to make those stories accessible and compelling to the viewers was to re-enact them. Rikki McManis of the Minnesota Film Board office in Duluth helped him line up dramatists to take on the roles in the re-enactment segments, and they studied the interviews in depth to assure they were in tune to the core aspects of the life stories they were trying to tell.
The subsequent filming was done by cameraman Steve Ash, the sensitively haunting score was written by Bruce Bowers, and Woods was assisted in the final editing and production stages by his wife, Debbie.
Local audiences will continue to preview the film in Superior and Two Harbors next week, and it will air Thursday night on WDSE/WRPT. HDC also plans to offer to bring the film and a discussion to small groups throughout the region.