For some viewers, “The Road Back” may hit close to home.
At 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 21, the Acadia Hospital will premiere “The Road Back” at the Gracie Theater, Husson University. Produced in cooperation with Saco-based Project Aware and Portland-based Gum Spirits Productions, the 35-minute film focuses on “offering hope to young people dealing with anxiety and depression,” said Alan Comeau. He is the community relations-and-development manager at Acadia Hospital.
“We do a lot of work in treating youth,” including those diagnosed with anxiety or depression, he said, noting that one-in-four young people will experience either condition “in their teen years.”
“Acadia offers rapid access to a wide array of mental health and substance-abuse services for children and adolescents,” he said.
According to Comeau, “The Road Back” traces its focus to when Comeau and Carl Lakari, a Project Aware co-founder, visited the high schools in Hampden, Hermon, and Old Town “about 1½ years ago and did focus groups” with students, Comeau said. During these groups, students talked about the mental health issues they faced.
“We heard that they deal with a lot of things on a daily basis,” Comeau said. “Their relationships are important to them. It’s not that they’re not happy; it’s that they have an awful lot on their plate.
“Family stuff is huge. They are dealing with normal teen issues, then they face the struggles that may be going on in their families,” Comeau said.
Young people “sometimes felt they had a mask on,” he said. “They believed they had to live up to someone else’s expectations, no matter what they were experiencing personally.”
Often the young people “felt like they didn’t have someone to talk to,” Comeau said. “They know that something is bothering them, but they’re afraid of talking about it because someone could label them … make fun of them.
“The stigma is a barrier. The sooner that barrier is overcome, the better,” he said. “Research shows that the sooner someone gets help, the better it is for them.”
Acadia Hospital officials studied the feasibility of producing a film about young people dealing with anxiety or depression. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something of this magnitude,” Comeau said. “We raised the funds to do the film,” which cost about $35,000.
Donors supporting the film included the Acadia Hospital, Bangor Savings Bank, the Bingham Program, the Davis Family Foundation, and Spring Harbor Hospital. “Acadia Hospital “is the executive producer. We own the film,” Comeau said.
The non-profit Project Aware has “a real specialty in working with youth in making films,” so “we retained them to produce the film,” he said.
“Everything about this film is local,” Comeau said. “The production crew was made up of teen-agers” supervised by a few adults, and “a core group” of “six teen-agers developed the story. Faith Bishop took all these ideas and wrote the screen play. She ended up being the producer of the film.” Lucas Holmes of Hampden wrote and recorded the film’s original score.
Local teen-agers formed the cast. The film centers on two teen-agers, ages 16-17:
• Natalie Johnson of Hermon plays Allie, who suffers from depression. “Her mom is single and preoccupied,” Comeau said.
• Josh DeVou of Hermon plays Christian, who deals with anxiety and worries about his soldier sister stationed at a war-zone base. “His character is a bit nervous by nature,” Comeau said.
Allie and Christian attend the same high school. They know each other, but are not friends. As the plot unfolds, Allie anonymously blogs about her feelings and thoughts; then her world suddenly goes south. Meanwhile, Christian encounters his worst fears: speaking publicly before classmates and then, while chatting with his sister via Skype, watching as an alarm suddenly sounds at her base and she terminates the call.
In scenes that wrench emotion from parents whose own children faced such challenges, Allie and Christian must deal with their mental health issues. “Both characters realize that there are things they can do to help themselves,” Comeau said.
“It’s a very hopeful ending for both characters,” he said.
The young people involved in the film’s production later expressed “how genuine it feels,” Comeau said. “The process let the young adults have a say in the project. They were instrumental it making it feel so real.
“We filmed this over five days in October ,” with the production crew working 12-to-14 hours per day and filming “90 percent of the film” during that time, Comeau said. All school scenes were filmed at Hermon High School; house-based scenes were filmed at private homes in Old Town.
According to Comeau, Acadia Hospital officials “see the movie’s goal as educating people and changing attitudes. We hope that teen-agers watching it will identify with the young people in the movie. If a kid is struggling, they will put a name to what they’re feeling and get help.
“The film may educate adults as to the warning signs, and they (adults) can become that safety net for young people. It’s so important for them to be able to find help,” he said.
According to Comeau, the film’s March 21 “premiere is a chance for the community to come together.” Admission is free; to reserve a seat, call (207) 973-6119 or log onto www.acadiatheroadback.org. The Web site also features a film trailer and downloadable information about anxiety and depression.
Acadia Hospital officials will distribute “The Road Back” DVDs “free to every middle and high school in the State of Maine,” Comeau said. The DVD, which will contain extra features, will also be offered for sale to parents and other interested adults.
In cooperation with California-based Challenge Day, “The Road Back” will be screened at five Maine high schools: Belfast, Biddeford, Hermon, Mt. Ararat, and Searsport. Viewers at each school will be asked to complete surveys about the film; “it is important we get feedback to see what students think of this,” Comeau said.
“I’m convinced this movie will have an impact on students’ lives,” he said.
For more information about the mental-health services available for young people at Acadia Hospital, call (207) 973-6100.