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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with 'Here One Day' Director, Kathy Leichter

Leichter chats with Shalom Life about her wonderful documentary 'Here One Day', following her journey in attempting to make sense of her mother's suicide.

By: Anthony Marcusa
Published: May 13th, 2013 in Culture » Film » Interviews

The grieving process takes many different forms, with closure coming via unexpected or unforeseen means, occasionally out of one’s control. For Kathy Leichter, whose mother Nina died in 1995, the journey occurred across 15 years, involving a video camera, hours of audio diaries, a supportive-albeit at times reluctant- family, and lots of unexpected revelations.

“Nine years after she died I found out I was having a son, and I was hit like a tsunami with a huge amount of grief,” says Kathy while in Toronto for the Hot Docs Film Festival, where her movie, Here One Day, made its Canadian debut.

“I thought I was having a daughter, and I realized that I had wanted a girl to recreate and repair this other mother-daughter relationship.”

Nina Leichter committed suicide, leaving behind her husband, a son, and a daughter. Nina was unable to carry on dealing with the debilitating effects of bipolar disorder, deciding to jump out the kitchen window of a house she raised a family in, the same house Kathy returns to after her mother's death.

The window remains unaltered as the film begins.

Leichter, a Jewish filmmaker living in New York City, thought that perhaps a documentary exploring familial relationships and the grieving process would be both interesting to an audience and beneficial personally. It took nine years to even contemplate making a film, and several more to discover how she wanted to present the final product. Unexpected feedback provided by a friend inspired the extraordinarily intimate tone of Here One Day.

“It took me a while to realize what I wanted to tell was this very personal and incredibly intimate story,” continues Leichter. “My friend had watched a trailer I put together and told me it seemed like I was defending against something. In that moment, I realized what I really wanted to do.”

What unfolds is a story about a Jewish family coping with the loss of a loved one, a cathartic tale of confronting emotions and understanding the powerful effects of mental illness. Adding to the intimacy is a haunting, yet humanizing element: over eight hours of audio tapes recorded by Nina Leichter prior to her death. At times funny and sad, thoughtful and introspective, and always self aware, these audio diaries are illuminating. Leichter was aware of their existence all along, but had never listened to them.

“Here is this person who doesn’t even have photographs up on the wall,” she explains about herself. “I had to look at hundreds of images, old super eights, and the rough cut of the film was an hour and a half, and that was before the tapes.”

“I tell my editor that I have these tapes and she practically murders me,” says Leichter, jokingly. As a filmmaker, she knows these compelling pieces of audio recorded by the movie’s central character are powerful and essential. As a daughter, she is reluctant.

“I had to listen to these tapes,” she says. “I was scared, but it was sort of delightful. I was like, ‘hi mom.’ We were having this conversation – it was a one way conversation, but still, she was funny, she was creative; they were a window to her soul. It was cathartic.”

The film-making process not only helped Kathy understand loss and mental illness issues, but also forced the hand of her family, who may or may not have been ready to deal directly with the death of a mother. Her father and her aunt were supportive from the start, her brother less so until watching a trailer of the documentary and realizing he was a pivotal figure.

When on camera, people tend to open up, and that is exactly what happens as conversations occurred that may have been tough to initiate otherwise . “The camera created a license to say things and ask things I may not have been necessarily able to. My brother was so grateful, so generous with what he shared.”

While at first thinking it was him who would be the hardest to show the finished product to, it was in fact her father. ”I realized how much of his story and life I told and exposed,” says Leichter, admitting that each family member learned something from the experience.

Among those lessons were ones about mental illness, as Leichter explains her mother’s disorder was almost like a fifth family member, simply something they had to deal with but didn’t exactly know how. “The movie revealed to me a lot, I didn’t realize my mom was so self aware,” says Leichter. “It gave me an understanding of what she was up against.”

Leichter continues to show the film around the world, and has received immense support from medical professionals, Jewish communities, as well as those dealing with mental illness in a more personal way. Response has been monumentally positive, and certainly an element to its success is the openness with which Leichter and her family approach the documentary. They are open and self aware, willing to allow viewers to come close, while allowing themselves and hopefully many others to learn from the experience. Leichter encourages others not to be ashamed or closed off or scared about past trauma, about mental illness, about grieving.

“The movie helps to give a place for releases, for feelings of terror and anxiety,” concludes Leichter. “There is a mixture of pride and emotional openness. This is who we are. Look what we have to reckon with in our families. We shouldn’t be quiet about this.”

Find out more info at www.hereoneday.com.

Here One Day (Trailer) from Kathy Leichter on Vimeo.


Related articles: Interview, Here One Day, Documentary, Kathy Leichter, Jewish, Hot Docs, Suicide, Family, Mother
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