An athlete, a special needs student, a quiet scholar, a new girl in school, a student caught in a violent world all have one thing in common: no one will listen to them.
They all hide from their pain, have friends who ignore each other’s cries for help and are surrounded by adults who do not stop and listen.
Although their stories are fictional and displayed through the feature-length film “Listen,” they spark of conversation of how to address the largest issues facing youth today.
Hundreds of community members, teachers, students and parents attended a special screening of the film as part of the free community event “It Only Takes a Moment” with the film’s actors and creators at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons.
“I found it incredibly touching… you can definitely see students form here in Santa Clarita Valley going through these things,” said Olga Lavalle, a school counselor at Canyon High School. “The thing that all our students at one point or another feel like they aren’t heard by one another or someone else is very real.”
Sponsored by 13 different Santa Clarita Valley and Los Angeles agencies, the event aimed to confront the mental health crisis facing youth, offer solutions and connect the community with practical tools.
“This film is very important to me and I’ve worked with youth for a long time,” said Erahm Christopher, the movie’s writer, director and producer. “We kept hearing this statement that no one really listens… What I believed was missing was these youth were saying pay attention, not just listen.”
To make the film, Christopher sat down with students in focus groups who revealed their own experiences with self-harm, suicidal thoughts, abuse, isolation and cultural differences.
He chose to release the film through free screenings at high schools, universities, health organizations and community centers across the United States and Canada to help audience members start dialogues and not feel alone.
“I felt the best way I could get people to talk about the issue is just to illustrate how mental health is laced with every element of our lives,” he said. “It’s the dialogue about this subject that we think is most important.”
Golden Valley High School special education teaching assistant Jennifer McCool and teacher Jamie Foderaro said they chose to attend the screening after watching a trailer for the film during a school meeting.
“It really caught my attention,” McCool said. “We also run a club and work with special education students called Circle of Friends so anything that can prevent bullying and promote inclusion, we want to be a part of.”
Jaide Yoakum, special education teacher at Golden Valley, said she saw each of her students in one or more of the characters in the movie.
A junior high school student in the audience said she related to the character of Summer, who was told she needed to lose weight to compete on the school’s swimming team.
“One thing that really spoke to me was that… when I was 14 years old I had a volleyball coach that told me I wasn’t skinny enough to be on his team,” she said. “So I related to Summer.”
Other attendees said they chose to attend the screening to relate to their own experiences with bullying both verbally and online.
Micah Hauptman, who played the film’s high school therapist Kevin Moore, said the overall film highlights what can happen to youth who do not have a mentor to talk to.
“The script painted a really compelling tapestry of what really seems to happen with kids in high school and what probably isn’t talked about with adults,” he said.
When Christopher finishes his tour of the film, he said he hopes to develop a way to make “Listen” a supplement to mental health education.
“We are talking with educators to develop a comprehensive curriculum after,” Christopher said. “It creates a entryway into the topic, it prompts you to want to talk about it.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_