Pitt to screen acclaimed documentary

Photo courtesy of Elana Goodridge

Not all tragedies end in misery.

“Here One Day,” a documentary that follows one family coping with a mother’s suicide, offers hope and a positive message negating the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The award-winning documentary will make its Pittsburgh premiere in the William Pitt Union Wednesday, Feb. 24, in Room 540 from 9 to 11 p.m. University of Pittsburgh organizations Hillel, Talk About It and Pitt Active Minds are sponsoring the event, which is open to the University at large. Following the screening, “Here One Day’s” director and producer Kathy Leichter will lead a discussion about the film and its message.

“Here One Day” is based on her family’s struggles and the aftermath of Leichter’s mother’s suicide.

After her mother’s death, Leichter moved back to her childhood home, where she found audiotapes her mother had made documenting her struggles with bipolar disorder and other family issues. It took 16 years for Leichter to muster up the courage to listen to the tapes, but when she finally did, she knew she needed to share the story to help others struggling with mental illness and self-harm.

“I’m delighted that I created something that could actually have social power and a way to help people and help communities and to teach people and to create a space for people to share their own stories,” Leichter said.

Leichter is a documentary filmmaker and founder of Two Suns Media and Mint Leaf Productions. Between being the daughter of a poet, painter and political activist as well as a New York senator, Leichter merged her parents’ artistic and rhetorical occupations to inform her documentary filmmaking career.

“I grew up in a house where people were trying to make change and make the world better,” she said. “I didn’t want to do it through politics, I wanted to make change through storytelling.”

Here One Day” aims to start conversations about mental health issues and offers advice for those battling mental illness on how to get help. It has played across the country at colleges, churches, suicide prevention groups, hospitals and community centers to educate viewers and raise awareness for mental illness.

According to the Kim Foundation, a Nebraska-based charitable organization working to reduce mental illness stigma, one in four adults 18 and older suffer from a mental disorder, or about 57.7 million people, when applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population.

Pitt has multiple student organizations dealing with mental illness, including the University Counseling Center, the Stress Free Zone, Talk About It and Pitt Active Minds, among others.

“I think the work of Active Minds and Talk About It is very important,” said Leichter. “They’re out there saying that it’s good to talk about these things, don’t hold it in, reach out to a friend, make that phone call, call the crisis center, walk in — just don’t sit alone with these feelings.”

“Here One Day” first premiered in 2012 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and has gone on to appear as an official selection in numerous other festivals, including the Cleveland International Film Festival and 2013’s DOC NYC.

“People were relating to “Here One Day” … because there are universal themes in the film about being a mother, being a daughter, being a spouse, about two siblings, a mother-daughter relationship, about being a woman, an artist, a homemaker and a teacher trying to juggle all of these things,” Leichter said.

Courtney Strauss, the director of engagement at the Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh, brought the documentary screening to campus with help from Active Minds, a nonprofit organization committed to reducing the mental health social stigma, and Talk About It, a mental health campaign dedicated to raising awareness, as co-sponsors.

“I used to work at the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Festival and a contact I had there told me about the film and it sounded like something that would be great for college students to see,” Strauss said, adding that Hillel is hoping for at least 50 attendees Wednesday.

In addition to “Here One Day” Leichter recently produced “Hidden Battles,” which came out in 2010 and explores killing’s psychological effect on five soldiers, each with a differing nationality, gender, class and race.

The filmmaker has also directed and produced “A Day’s Work, A Day’s Pay,” a 2001 documentary that tracks three welfare recipients and their association with the Work Experience Program, in addition to producing “Mothers and Daughter: Mirrors That Bind,” a documentary analyzing mother-daughter relationships through interviews with women and girls of various ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Even though “Here One Day” touches on dark subject matter, the film shows that opening up the conversation about mental health brings families closer.

“I would say the film has brought [my family] closer and unearthed things that needed to be unearthed,” Leichter said.

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