What a busy and exciting season it’s been! As summer begins to gain momentum and spring draws to a close, we wanted to give you guys a recap of our very exciting spring conference series and all the wonderful experiences we’ve been able to share as a team.
As some of you know, we recently held three MOVE Community Conferences during our spring conference season, visiting Austin, TX at UT Austin during the film and interactive week of SXSW; heading to Los Angeles, CA to host a conference at a very cool, old movie theater in downtown Hollywood; and then wrapping up in a gorgeous historic church in New York City, NY. These conferences were our largest ever, drawing in over 200 attendees from the US and Canada! And these conferences were unique because we were able to work with a partner organization for the first time.
Seven months ago, we were invited out to Los Angeles by the production company Participant Media to view a movie called The Beaver. We honestly didn’t know what to make of the title or the synopsis – a story about a father’s crippling depression that causes him to find solace and expression through a beaver puppet in order to gain control of his life – but we were eager to learn more. What we learned was that Jodie Foster had produced and directed a wonderful film that explores the truth about how mental illness can impact a family, damage relationships, and cause pain and confusion. However, while it’s true that mental illness affects more than the person struggling, this movie also reminds viewers that hope is inherent in the struggle for those who seek to find it, and that redemption is possible for all people in the midst of that type of pain.
The Participant Media folks became fast friends as our partnership developed into what their company calls a “social action campaign.” In each campaign, an organization is chosen to benefit financially from the movie’s advertising budget, in order to meet people on a ground level in ways that directly connect with each film the company produces. Our MOVE Community Conferences were a perfect fit because of our effort to educate community members who are passionate about understanding and speaking into the topic of mental health, and erasing the stigma and shame that surrounds those issues. It is our hope that those who attend MOVE would become true catalysts for change in the cities and regions they’re from.
Because of our partnership with Participant Media, and their gracious $60,000 grant, we were able to host three entirely revamped conferences. With a much larger budget, we were able to print brand-new, beautiful materials, update our curriculum, hire an additional counselor named Alison to interact with attendees alongside counselors Aaron and Michelle Moore, bring multiple TWLOHA staff members to each event, rent large, beautiful venues, and use film clips from The Beaver to bring some of our teaching points to life in a new way. Not only that, but the support we experienced from within the film community was incredible. It encouraged us so much to learn that there are people working within Hollywood to push for a more accurate glimpse into the reality of mental illness. Like we so often say, you are not alone in your story. We were reminded that there are so many people in the film industry who understand pain, addiction, mental illness and stories that end too soon. And that they’re working hard to do something about it.
At the premiere of the film, a few of us had the privilege of “walking the red carpet” and experiencing the movie in a theater of anxious moviegoers. Listening to Jodie Foster speak to her motivation behind making the film was a gift. We were impressed by her honesty and understanding about the reality of the pain and hope possible in the mental health community. She expressed over and over again how passionate she is about mental health in her personal life and on the screen.
Jodie said that the story had a balance of lightness and heaviness, and the challenge was in sharing something so heavy with the appropriate levels of humor and wit that accompany the pains and joys of our struggle. She said, “For me, it’s a very personal film, and it has to do with all of my struggles, all the things I think about obsessively, and where I’m at in this particular point of my life. And I think the graduation speech [at the end of the film] really sums up the final message of the movie, which is that we all have these struggles, and that life is full of the half-comedy and half-tragedy. And really, the only way to get through it is to know you’re not alone. And that connection is the one thing that makes the loneliness of this life bearable.”
Sitting in the theater proved why TWLOHA had been chosen to play a role in this social action campaign. Everything Jodie spoke about in reference to mental health was exactly the message we strive to share on a daily basis. Our MOVE Community Conferences are just one of the many ways we help fight against this stigma of silence. We have our MOVE attendees to thank for that! Each conference is incredible because it is full of people who seek to become leaders in their communities. People who want to make sure help is available locally, and that people seeking to find answers would know it’s ok to ask. And our hope is that we are able to continue partnering with organizations, businesses and companies who care deeply about people joining together to support one another when life takes a confusing turn.
As we look ahead to the future, we are excited to share that we will be holding three more MOVE Community Conferences before the end of 2011. We are taking the summer off to plan for the fall, so anticipate new cities and dates in the coming months. Keep an eye on the website for updates.
As always, you are welcome to email us with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love hearing from you.
Director of MOVE Community Conferences