The end of a life is nearly always sad. When it comes at the hand of the one dying, the sorrow can be overwhelming — and in the case of a young person’s suicide, all but unbearable.
A collaboration between Naperville-based Nickel A Day Films and Hope for the Day, a Chicago nonprofit that works on suicide prevention, is producing a film aimed at advancing awareness of the factors surrounding teen suicide, and reducing its incidence.
Currently known as The Hope Defined Project, the film is being made with seed money provided by a $14,333 Special Events and Cultural Amenities grant from the city of Naperville. City Council members a year ago agreed to allocate $100,000 in new annual funding to a variety of local drug abuse and suicide prevention efforts.
Jonny Boucher, founder and executive director of Hope for the Day, said suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds. He lobbies for putting the topic on the table.
“This film is not a pretty picture, at the end of the day,” Boucher said in a SECA workshop earlier this year. “It’s to get these conversations going.”
Producer AnnMarie Parker, who owns Nickel A Day and runs it from a space in Naperville’s Fifth Avenue Station, is ready for that.
“It’s funny how nobody talks about suicide,” she said. “They just pretend it doesn’t happen.”
The so-far-untitled film spotlights a teenager named Mark, who hasn’t yet come to grips with the suicide of his twin sister Kimberly a year earlier, and Natalie, another teen struggling with a series of jarring life changes, and how the two come to know one another and their connection. The focus encircles those close to a person who is thinking of taking his or her own life.
“We don’t want to put all the pressure on the suicidal person to get help, because sometimes they can’t,” Parker said.
She and director Ron Rehana are working to finalize their cast, hoping to begin filming by early summer and release the movie in mid-2015.
In the last of two audition days last weekend, Rehana instructed candidates for the role of Mark.
“What I want is ice-cold rage,” he told Dylan Cruz, 19, who was called back for a second stage test.
A 2002 graduate of Columbia College, Rehana said his goal is to cast the film with people who listen well to his directions, and have a certain look that fits the role.
He’s found it in some Naperville residents, including Mary Grace Maxwell, who will portray Natalie’s younger sister Melody.
“I think it will be different, because I’m used to plays,” said Mary Grace, 13, a seventh-grader at Lincoln Junior High School who has dabbled in acting off and on since she was about 7.
She’s also not had a part like Melody before.
“I have played some serious roles before in my acting classes, but this is a very, very serious topic, because it’s about bullying and suicide,” she said.
Mary Grace has friends who struggle with depression, and hopes to help spread awareness of the problem.
“There’s lot of things you can do,” she said.
Prevention is on Lisa Gangi’s mind as well. She’s been cast as Sandy, mother of Natalie and Melody. The Naperville mom of two, a freelance spokesmodel, said she’s familiar with Nickel A Day through the yearly Naperville Film Festival.
“I was just so impressed with the quality of the productions,” Gangi said.
With a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, she’s also becoming familiar with the difficulties of adolescence, and the prevalence of suicide as a response by those who are overwhelmed by it.
“Maybe it just struck a chord, I’m not sure,” she said of her decision to audition for the part. “When I read the headlines on the news page, it’s a scary world out there for a teenager.”
Gangi expects the movie will help ease some of the fear. As she sees it, the key is helping those in a dark place realize that life can be hard, and that there’s no shame in reaching out for help.
“I think a big part of that is getting people to open up and have real, honest conversations — not just with their kids and each other, but with others in the community,” she said.
Parker is working through a crowd-funding website to secure the rest of the money needed to make the movie using the full 142-page script, which would yield a production 90 to 100 minutes long. If the funds can’t be raised, the film will be cut significantly. Either way, it’s hard to predict how it will be received.
“With film, you don’t know,” Parker said.
For information about supporting the production, visit www.crowdrise.com/teensuicideawareness/fundraiser/annmarieparker.Tags: film, Hope for the Day, Nickel A Day Films, teen suicide, The Hope Defined Project