Filmmaker starts a discussion about suicide with ‘The S Word’
“The S Word” film screening
6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14
Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium 1255 Park Ave.
Lisa Klein was a sophomore in college when her father died by suicide.
Three months later, her older brother chose to follow him.
She processed the deaths throughout her schooling.
“I wrote about it a lot, and then once I went to film school, I realized I needed to do something more,” Klein, a filmmaker, said. “I had to figure out ways to deal with this, and I noticed the suicide rates were, and still are, pretty astronomical. I wanted to find a way to tackle the subject.”
Klein was able to address her father and brother’s suicides, and, at the same time answer some of her own questions, with her 2017 documentary, “The S Word.”
CONNECT Summit County, a nonprofit that raises awareness of mental health issues, will host a free screening of “The S Word” as part of the Brainstorm Film Festival at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium.
A post-screening panel discussion with Klein will be moderated by PCTV producer and host Christine Napier.
“The S Word” follows photographer Dese’Rae Stage, a suicide attempt survivor, as she seeks out other survivors to tell their stories.
Klein decided on this structure after making another documentary, “Of Two Minds,” which covered bipolar disorder.
“When I was doing that film, we interviewed somebody who had lost a daughter to suicide,” Klein said. “So initially I thought I had covered that topic, but then realized quite quickly thereafter, that I had only touched upon it.”
Klein spent three years making “The S Word.” (See accompanying list).
Early on, when she told people what the film was about, she was met with sarcastic comments.
“They would say, ‘Oh, that sure sounds like fun,’ and things like that,” Klein said.”But as time went on and the more people I talked with, the more I heard, ‘You should talk to my brother,’ or ‘You should talk to my cousin.’”
That’s when Klein found out that survivors wanted to tell their stories.
“Everybody had different ways to deal what they’ve been through but what I’ve found is the more I talked with people, the more open they became,” she said. “I think it’s because they know their stories may help the next person.”
Through these interviews, Klein found a thriving community of attempted suicide survivors, and the film is about putting a human face on the issue, Klein said.
In 2017, more than 47,000 people in the United State died by suicide, and there was an estimated 1,400,000 attempted suicides, according to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
“We all known the statistics, and it’s easy to hear the numbers and look away,” Klein said. “But once we put a face to these numbers — when you hear people speaking and start seeing their faces, you connect with them, and it a becomes something different.”
As Klein began doing on-camera interviews, she learned that the interviews would work better as dialogues.
“Anything they wanted to know about me and my background was open to them, and I think my background did give them a sense of comfort,” she said. “Unfortunately, people who survive attempted suicide or survive a loved one’s suicide makes you a member of club you don’t want to be a member of. So there was kind of an unspoken camaraderie based on that.”
Dese’Rae Stage — After losing friends to suicide, Stage made the attempt herself. After surviving, she found the love of photography, and is currently seeking fellow suicide-attempt survivors for her project, Livethroughthis.org.
Craig Miller — Miller tried to fight suicidal thoughts with writing, and after a failed suicide attempt he wrote a book, “This is How it Feels.”
Leah Harris — Harris is a mother, storyteller, survivor and human rights advocate. She has spoken at gatherings and conferences including the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA), Alternatives and the National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR).
Kelechi Ubozoh — Ubozoh attempted suicide when she was 23 this way: She describes herself as wearing “a mask every day, pretending to be happy when I was not.” She is now a mental health advocate.
Ann Taylor — After Taylor, a single parent, confessed to her teenage son that she attempted suicide, she made the choice to find ways to not only enhance her life, but to enjoy it.
Jean and John Toh — The Tohs’ son Brandon committed suicide, and Jean wants to share her story to help others. She has made a commitment to remember her son and “all facets of the life he did live.”
Throughout the interviews, Klein found the common thread that kept these survivors going were people who took the time to listen and connect with them.
“There is generally a sense of disconnection, a sense of hopelessness that brings people to the point where they wanted to commit suicide,” she said. “You feel depressed. You don’t want to be a burden. You feel worthless and that nobody wants you around.”
When people feel these things, the last thing they want to do is go to a party or call a friend, Klein said.
“This is the time when you should call a friend,” she said. “What happened to most of the people in the film is at the time when they should absolutely not isolate themselves, that’s what they wanted to do the most.”
During each interview, Klein asked the subjects if they really wanted to die or if they just wanted the pain of hopelessness to end.
“Most everyone said they just wanted the pain to end,” she said.
Although some have a conception that suicide is a cop out, Klein thinks differently.
“There is nothing easy, selfish or cowardly about suicide, and I believe that to my very core,” she said. “When someone says a friend ‘fought cancer so hard’ and then turn around and say a suicide victim ‘just gave up,’ we need to stop and think, because we don’t know if they really gave up. Oftentimes, they do struggle. Sometimes they struggle for years.”
Making “The S Word” was like riding a roller coaster for Klein.
“It brought up all of these emotions and feelings again,” she said. “But meeting these people who have been to the edge and survived, gave me a connection and deeper understanding of what might have led my father and brother to do what they did.”
Klein believes “The S Word” is part of a larger picture when it comes to understanding suicide, which was brought into focus on a recent trip to Lithuania.
“I realized the cultural differences melt away when we talk about suicide,” she said. “We’ve all felt pain. We’ve all gone through things, and if we can just show people that they are less alone, it means so much.”
Klein looks forward to bringing the film to Park City and engaging in the audience during the panel discussion.
“I encourage people to ask questions,” she said. “If people are too shy to ask in front of a crowd, I would love them to come talk with me afterwards.”
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