Cinema has long been known to be a powerful medium. Not just a form of entertainment, cinema provides social, anthro-pological, and cultural knowledge about life experiences. Through movies, we learn. We are transported to places and situations that offer us the chance to experience something new or something meaningful.
The forthcoming documentary "Here One Day" follows filmmaker Kathy Leichter's quest to understand the impact of living with her mother's Bipolar Disorder - and understanding the trauma of her mother's suicide. After a decades-long struggle with Bipolar Disorder, Nina Leichter, a sixty-three year old mother of two, died by suicide by jumping out of a window. Being the wife of a New York State Senator, her death was reported on the radio, in newspapers, and on television. "Here One Day" picks up where the mainstream press left off - and continues with the journey of surviving family members as they try to make sense of their trauma. Filmed by the winner of the 2010 Excellence in Cinematography Award at The Sundance Film Festival, this documentary paints an intimate portrait of loss and understanding.
Kathy Leichter's mother was 42 years old when first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, called Manic-Depression at that time. Leichter recalls memories of her mother as mercurial, loving and eccentric, but that she really never displayed any serious symptoms of depression. "When my mother took her life, it was a bit of a shock," Leichter says. "When this happened, I went through an intense grieving period, and felt so frozen by the loss of her. I was stuck. Then I was thrown into having my own children which distracted me from my grieving. But then around the time my second child was born, I felt that it was holding me back so much in my life that I had to do something about it."
These experiences would be a painful odyssey for anyone to move through, but Leichter's decision to document her own process has proved to be an extremely healing one for her. "I decided to make 'Here One Day' because I had all this feeling, all this emotion - all this need to have some kind of closure. I wanted to connect to my mother and at the same time let her go. Miraculously, I can say that this is what the film has done for me."
Researchers would agree that finding your own way to make sense of trauma is the key to healing. For Leichter, a filmmaker and artist, she used what she knew to help express and recover from enormous pain. She made a moving and meaningful film that helped her understand the unexplainable - and reclaim her self-identity. A music teacher might score feelings of loss and hope through a lyrical composition. A farmer might root remembrance by the planting of a tree. When it comes to loss, exploring your emotional wounds- and finding your own personal way to move through it - can help you recover, remember and re-work your life story.
Cinema can be a meaningful way to learn about mental illness. Link here to see the trailer for "Here One Day" and help support the film by donating at Kathy Leichter's Blog
Davis, J. E. (2002). Stories of change: Narrative and social movements. New York: State University of New York Press.
Rogers, M. (2010). The wounding and healing of the mother-daughter relationship. Pacifica Graduate Institute. ISBN: 9781109735987
Weber, C.M. & Silk, H. (2007). Movies and medicine: An elective using film to reflect on family and illness. Family Medicine; 39(5):317-9.
Note: Dr. Deborah Serani is the author of the forthcoming book "Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter Along the Path to Hope and Healing"