My heart stopped on May 4, 2013, when a student I knew from Santa Monica College committed suicide at the campus. During a day like this, it was impossible to eat, sleep, or have anything other than the thoughts of disappointment running through my head. Especially when the weeks preceding this drastic event I’ve spent a myriad of hours working on a screenplay for a short film themed exactly about youth suicide. It felt as though I was destined to use my work for a greater purpose; I couldn’t ignore the ability my film would eventually have to create a great impact on the lives around me. My short film, Parents, was already complete at that point, and awarded Best Picture and Best Cinematography in the Santa Monica College Film Festival, while also selected to screen at Festival de Cannes.
My goal in creating this film was to bring out a struggle that often remains invisible because of the lack of communication. The subject is seen as a taboo and is rarely discussed inside families or groups of friends. Although my film was being successfully exhibited in different parts of the world, I realized that I still had more work to do inside my own community. The very next day, I reunited with a group of friends and we started planning a Public Service Announcement (PSA) in order to raise awareness about suicide. We wanted to make a tribute to our former colleague and alert people about the shocking statistics of nearly 30,000 Americans that commit suicide every year, adding the fact that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children younger than 12 years, as portrayed in my short film, Parents.
We created a suicide prevention campaign called “What Would You Say?” From this question, we wanted to stimulate people to generate positive responses that could affect someone at the risk of suicide. We put up a publicity stunt on campus to reach the students directly and have a more effective message. To draw attention we simulated a suicide attempt, placing a mannequin on the top of the main campus building during the busiest hour. Hundreds of students were cruising around, rushing to their classes and not even realizing. Suddenly one student stopped and looked above, became worried, and questioned his friend while pointing up to the mannequin. They kept looking up with their phones, taking pictures. In a short time, a big group of people formed below the mannequin; they were all looking up at it, curiously trying to understand what was happening. After about 20 minutes of commotion, we dropped one banner with the suicide rates statistics. Then we dropped another one below it with the question “What would you say?” We left a white board available, which became filled with a lot of personal and sensitive messages from the student. We filmed everything from a distance, which enabled us to pick up some authentic and emotional reactions. The response was really positive; a lot of people felt connected with the issue and had similar stories to share. The buzz went throughout the internet, and I made the film’s website available to continue to receive positive messages.
That experience made me realize that empathy is extremely important for the wellbeing of our society, and that with a healthy communication we are always able to express our feelings with each other. Although we live in an era of fast-stream information, we know less about ourselves and that compromises our relationships with each other. This is an absolutely beautiful world, and our journey here can be a magnificent experience. We should never let anything or anyone make us think otherwise.