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CANVAS: Sailing Forward, Three Dramas in One

Joe Greco, Michael Fitzpatrick, Devon Gearhart and Joe Pantoliano (l to r)

NAMI Executive Director Mike Fitzpatrick presents an Outstanding Media Award for the movie CANVAS at the 2007 NAMI National Convention to director Joe Greco (left), and actors Devon Gearhart and Joe Pantoliano. Sharing the award is actress Marcia Gay Harden.

Three dramas are playing out that may make history in the campaign to overcome stigma and achieve broad public education about the experience of ordinary families in confronting mental illness.

One drama is straight out of Hollywood—the movie CANVAS, an independent film that will be released in October 2007. Inspired by the true story of director Joseph Greco’s family, the movie has received honors on the film festival circuit, as well as NAMI’s Outstanding Media Award for a dramatic motion picture.

The second drama is the grassroots effort to bring CANVAS to theaters nationwide.

NAMI members are now learning about the tough challenge faced by small budget independent films, unlike ones produced by major movie studios.

So far, CANVAS is scheduled to be released in New York and Chicago on October 12, and Ft. Lauderdale and Phoenix on October 19 (watch for local listings).

It costs $20,000 to $40,000 to mount a publicity campaign in a city in order to support a film’s release. How the movie fares in ticket sales in those cities determines whether theater chains nationwide will seek to book the film in subsequent weeks. The film’s distributor, Screen Media Films, hopes to raise funds to show the film in theaters in other markets.

NAMI members are trying to raise the movie’s profile in support of that effort—in particular by contacting Oprah Winfrey asking that the film’s director and cast be interviewed on the show. This event alone would reach millions of people and create a  “buzz” of expectation. NAMI affiliates also are standing ready to help promote the film if it comes to their cities.

If the movie’s release is too small and ticket sales too low, the movie may sink out of sight into limited DVD circulation. Broad public education won’t be achieved, which would be everyone’s loss.

NAMI is biased of course, but the performances of the actors in the film are worthy of Oscar nominations.

Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden plays the mother who is stricken by schizophrenia. Emmy Award winner Joe Pantoliano, who starred in “The Sopranos,” as well as movies such as The Matrix and Midnight Run, sheds his usual tough guy/wise guy role for a powerful, sensitive portrayal of the husband and father. And 10-year-old Devon Gearhart—who once starred in a television commercial with Ray Charles for the Georgia State Lottery—almost steals the show.

The third drama is like the legend of King Arthur, in which an unexpected hero tries to pull the sword Excalibur from a stone. In this case, the hero is Pantoliano, also known as "Joey Pants,"  who hopes to recruit knights in the entertainment industry to join the battle against stigma.

Joe Pantoliano chats with an attendee at the 2007 NAMI National Convention

Joe Pantoliano chats with an attendee at the 2007 NAMI National Convention.

Pantoliano is convinced that his mother had undiagnosed, untreated bipolar disorder, which was the source of great turmoil within his family, which he recounted in his 2003 autobiography, "Who’s Sorry Now? The True Story of a Stand-Up Guy." For him, CANVAS awakened powerful emotions and a commitment to a greater cause.

Pantoliano is co-president of The Creative Coalition, the entertainment community’s voice advocating for First Amendment creative rights and support of the arts.

Under his leadership, the coalition is preparing to add mental health advocacy to its agenda. He also is creating a separate vehicle called the "No Kidding, Me Too!" Coalition to enlist celebrities as spokespersons to the cause. The name reflects the exchange that often occurs when one person discloses their history of mental illness to another—a moment of anxious vulnerability that often is followed by reassuring affirmation that strikes a blow against stigma.

For years, NAMI and others in the mental health community have hoped and waited for someone in the entertainment community not only to disclose mental illness publicly, but also to be a constant voice and, especially, a leader, willing to take on the task of organizing other voices.

Will Joey Pants be the one to pull the sword from the stone? So far, he’s come closer than any other celebrity to date. And CANVAS is an excellent first step as part of a long campaign.

Related Resources

NAMI StigmaBusters