When I returned to my childhood home, I discovered 300 family Civil War letters. I have transcribed them, but nothing more.
Not so Kathy Leichter. The Cornell graduate and daughter of former New York State senator Franz Leichter left Pittsburgh's public television station six months after her mother committed suicide in 1995 by jumping out the dining room window of her apartment in Manhattan, N.Y. Leichter returned to her childhood home and found a hidden box of audiotapes her mother had made.
Those audiotapes are now the spine of her intimate, candid and award-winning film, "Here One Day."
Creator, producer and director Leichter comes to Baltimore for two, free screenings Thursday, Oct. 10 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the Church of the Redeemer, 5603 North Charles St.
Filmed by Kirsten Johnson, winner of the 2010 Sundance Excellence in Cinematography award, "Here One Day" is in worldwide distribution.
Eight years and $250,000 in the making, the film has a Baltimore connection. Longtime Roland Park resident Lindy Lord, whose husband, Chick, committed suicide in 2000, met Leichter in 2012 at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's National Day of Healing in Baltimore, where Leichter was a presenter and participant. At a session for family survivors, they sat together.
After seeing the film later that day, Lord remembers, "I was hooked on the idea of getting this film out there."
Lord first helped in fundraising efforts for the film. Then, a friend sent her an online reflection on mental illness by the Rev. Caroline Stewart, senior associate rector at Redeemer. Lord asked Stewart the next day if the film could be shown at the church.
Stewart feels strongly about bringing mental illness into community dialogue.
"The issue of mental illness not only impacts individuals in our congregation," she says, "but also is part of the current dialogue in our country. The church therefore has a responsibility to provide a forum for discussion and education."
After seeing a clip at hereoneday.com, I now plan to see the film. Most of us know an adult or teenager lost to suicide. It is hard to know how to help surviving families, and even harder for them to deal with the cataclysm of suicide.
Leichter talks of her own struggle after her mother's death.
"I moved home within six months," she says. "I wanted to be close to my father, who was living in the apartment, and I wanted to be close to my mother, as close as I could be. Even though that meant living in the apartment where she killed herself, it was still our family home."
Leichter, a career documentarian, had used her earlier films, like "A Day's Work, A Day's Pay," as social activism, but she did not even start making "Here One Day" until nine years after her mother died.
"I would never have imagined doing this," she said. "I couldn't even look at the photos or say, 'My mother committed suicide.' … When I found out I was having a second son, it unleashed a wave of grief."
She started with a film about mother-loss.
"Then, I showed a sample to a friend, who said it was very distant. I realized the story I wanted to tell was my own story: what happened to her and what happened to us. It had been a film of people talking about my mother. Then it became a film of her talking about herself.
"When I finally did listen to the tapes, they were so powerful," Leichter said. "I felt as if I was talking to her."
Adding the tapes to the film changed everything.
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Amazed by the film's impact on herself and others, Leichter says, "I went from being someone who couldn't even say this happened to me, to telling it all over the world."