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April 10, 2013 | posted in Filmmakers
Super distracted. Manic. Wild. Hilarious. Unbounded. When Kathy Leichter was growing up, she didn’t know which side of her mother she would see.
“They called it ‘manic depression,’” says Leichter. But “no one really explained it to me … it was just something we lived with and that she lived with.”
Filmmaker Leichter tells her family’s story about living with mental illness and suicide in “Here One Day.” She says she backed into the story unconsciously. It began as an exploration of loss in her family across generations; something she thought she could accomplish “from a detached standpoint.”
“I wanted to look at the effects that losing a mother had on a person,” she says. “What I was doing was really taking a journey to further let go of my mom.”
Leichter’s journey was far from detached. It led her through some very difficult moments. When she first started the film, “I couldn’t even say that my mother had committed suicide,” she says. Even after 11 years, describing what had happened on-camera was “unbelievably hard.”
With each step, she got stronger. “I wanted to free myself from the story’s grip through this very public telling of it,” she says.
Growing up, Leichter remembers her mother recording her thoughts on answering machine cassettes. After her mother's suicide, she found the tapes but "was terrified to listen to them." "I didn't want to hear her voice ... to admit that she had died."
Sixteen years went by, the film was a year into post-production, and Leichter waited until the last possible minute before she decided to have an intern transcribe the tapes.
"I looked up ... and saw her typing with her headphones on and tears were streaming down her face," she recalls. "I knew I couldn’t wait any longer."
Those tapes were "a window into my mother’s soul." And Leichter is grateful that the film led her to listen and to re-discover her mother in this very intimate way.
"The experience was ... much better than I had expected," she continues. "I missed her but in a good way."
She is often called brave for telling her very personal family story, but Leichter credits her father, brother and aunt as “even braver.” She didn’t share a lot of the details of her project until she showed them the rough cut. She admits that those were “the hardest screenings I have done.” None of them asked her to change a frame, and she says that “we all grew in the making of this film.”
Although Leichter still “feels exposed,” after the movie ends, she knows that sharing her family’s story is “a service of something much larger than myself” and wishes her film will move others emotionally. She hopes her film will support families in similar situations and educate others about mental illness and suicide and to “get people talking about these all-too-common experiences.”
–Anne M. DiTeodoro
Photo by George F. Gund.
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