A unique short film about a mother’s grief, co-produced by two Shenandoah professors, has been accepted for the new Compassion Film Festival in Carbondale, Colorado, and the Asheville Film Festival, in Asheville, North Carolina. It has also been accepted for the new Strasburg Film Festival in Strasburg, Virginia, and the International Shorts Film Festival in Melbourne, Australia.
The film, “A Mother’s Will,” chronicles the production of the rock opera “A Will To Survive,” starring Ann-Charlotte Robinson of Middleburg, Virginia. The film and stage production tell the story of Robinson’s son’s suicide.
A Caring Creative Team
Adjunct Associate Professor of Music Therapy Thomas Sweitzer ’95, ’11 M.M.T., MT-BC, and Distinguished Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music Production & Recording Technology and Director of The Film Studio at Shenandoah Paul DiFranco co-produced the film with Steve Nerangis, an owner of the local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and a music documentary filmmaker with Varla Dogwood Films. Nerangis also edited the piece. Sweitzer, who co-composed the rock opera’s music, is the executive director and co-founder of the Middleburg music therapy center, A Place to Be, while DiFranco is a friend of Robinson’s and has collaborated with Nerangis on other projects. Music therapy alumnus Cedric Dimapilis ’16 also composed music for the stage show.
Robinson performed the rock opera with students in front of a total of 40,000 students over the course of two years, and the show was also presented at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2017. The film, “A Mother’s Will,” is “a beautiful, streamlined glimpse,” into the world of a mother who channeled her grief into a performance piece aimed at providing young people with hope and inspiration to reach out to someone in need, as well as a platform for a larger-scale documentary, Sweitzer said.
A Way To Promote Healing
“A Mother’s Will” was also created as a tool to be used in suicide prevention workshops and seminars, Sweitzer said.
Performing the rock opera, for which most of the lyrics were pulled from Robinson’s son’s journal, was cathartic for both Robinson and the student cast members (many in the original cast were close friends with Robinson’s late son, Will), Sweitzer said. Other cast members have been young people dealing with mental health challenges, with approximately 50 percent being clients at A Place To Be, which offers not only individual and group clinical music therapy, but also performance-based music therapy/ transformational theatre experiences.
“[There was a] healing component for everybody” involved in the production, from the cast to the audience, he said.
The Compassion Film Festival “celebrates and honors people and organizations that are actively engaged in compassionate activities, inspiring others to do the same, through film, workshops, and hands-on activities,” according to the festival website.
Sweitzer said the longer-form documentary film, with the tentative title, “A Will To Survive: The Movie,” will further explore the power of the musical and answer questions like, “How did this musical help so many teenagers, and transform the mother?”
The Compassion Film Festival ran from Friday, Aug. 17, through Sunday, Aug. 19. The Asheville Film Festival is the following month, on Saturday, Sept. 8. The film will show in Strasburg on Nov. 1, and in Australia in December.