Muskegon filmmaker’s movie about families and mental health to be shown

The award-winning film “Coming Up for Air,” which was filmed along the Lakeshore, draws attention to the critical role caregivers play in promoting family wellness.
The story is partially based on a case in California that led to a red flag law that requires medical professionals to work with family members of people experiencing a mental health crisis, says the film’s producer, director and co-writer, Roger Rapoport, of Muskegon.
"Families are often the first responders or the first persons to see a big change,” says Rapoport. “So we put together some cases like that, particularly around athletes, because athletes have a lot of struggle sometimes with trying to keep good grades, which is what this kid wanted to do in our film, and trying to be a good athlete, and have friends and get along with everybody.” 

Rapoport researched and co-wrote the script with lead actress Deborah Staples, who won several acting awards for the film. 

“The story is a composite of many different stories we researched. We talked to the police because they have to handle these mental health calls. We talked to coaches who work with young athletes who can have these issues. They were a big help in fact-checking everything to ensure we were accurate. Much of the reporting that went into the script came from West Michigan mental health experts who deal with the health care side, including insurance and deductibles.”
Discussion to follow the screening
The film will be screened at the Holland Momentum Center, 345 14th St., on Tuesday, Jan. 17. This event is free and open to the public. It begins at 5:30 p.m., with the film starting at 6 p.m., followed by a town hall discussion with local mental health experts and Rapoport. 

The film is about a mother who struggles to rescue her brilliant son, who is spiraling out of control. When single mother Anna Russell, a ceramic artist, discovers that her son Stan, an outstanding college diver and academic star, is unraveling, she must act quickly to avoid tragedy. In denial and mysteriously out of reach, Stan suddenly disappears. Anna must find him, going on a journey highlighting caregivers' key role in helping those in need survive a mental emergency and recover. The film also focuses on the particular challenges of balancing high-stakes athletics with academic excellence.

The film "Coming Up For Air" was filmed along the lakeshore.
The acclaimed drama has won seven best feature awards at festivals worldwide and 20 other honors. It was filmed on location in Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Milwaukee. Many prominent West Michigan actors are featured, including Kate Thomsen, a Holland High School graduate who is now a theater professor at Western Michigan University.

In addition to Rapoport, panelists will include Mikaela Andrea, Holland Behavioral Health; Lynne Doyle, Community Mental Health of Ottawa County; McKenna Grennan, survivor; Michele Sampson and Amanda Sheffield, Ottawa County Crisis Intervention Team; Mallory Timmer, Ottawa Community Schools network coordinator at Holland Public Schools’ West  Elementary; and Jenna Vipond, Momentum Center.

‘Compassion, clarity, and truth’

Robert Sheehan, executive director of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, describes says, “Coming Up for Air” as “one of those rare films that explores a range of topics – from the complex relationship between parents and their adult children to suicide, from athletic prowess to homelessness, from depression to recovery – with compassion, clarity, and truth, all while not sensationalizing these issues nor painting one-dimensional victims or villains. This film provides insight into the lives of all of us, as we walk alongside each other living with and recovering from mental illness.”

Pairing the film with a discussion about mental health can provide “a beautiful starting point for a compassionate discussion about the impact of mental health and mental illness on families, caregivers, and loved ones,” says Lisa Williams, executive director of West Michigan CMH System, which hosted a similar event. 

“Through movie clips, we were able to, without judgment, talk honestly and empathically together about the feelings parents, friends, and siblings may have regarding a loved one coping with mental illness. We discussed what reasonable helping behavior that doesn't dehumanize or threaten the dignity of the person struggling with their recovery is but that also honors the fears and frustrations of the caregiver who wants to communicate their love and desire to help."

The Holland Momentum Center sponsors the event. Located in Grand Haven and Holland, Momentum Center is a grassroots movement to create a stigma-free community. It does this by hosting community conversations that address mental illness, addictions, and disabilities. 

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.