DSU alumna to make documentary featuring PTSD survivors

Share This:

Dixie State University alumna is readying herself for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month this June by preparing to shoot a feature-length documentary.

DSU alumna Nicole Weisbrich is in the pre-production stages of creating a documentary film focused on survivors of PTSD. Weisbrich also plans to feature a gallery of sketches of survivors alongside the film.

Weisbrich, who is both a visual artist and a filmmaker, said it was art that initially gave her the idea for the documentary, especially that of Joel Daniel Phillips, an artist known for his life-size portraits of San Francisco residents.

“I like all of my art to have a purpose,” Weisbrich said. “So I came up with this idea of survivors. I started thinking about the people that I know; I know a lot of people that have gone through a lot of really crazy experiences and have come out to be amazing, inspiring, happy, upbeat people. But they do still suffer with PTSD.”

While Weisbrich initially planned to create a gallery of life-size portraits featuring the survivors, but she quickly realized the art alone would not tell their story. This led to the idea for a documentary last October, she said.

Jansen Young, a survivor of the 2012 Aurora Shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, will be a survivor featured in the documentary. She said she has been dealing with PTSD symptoms for over four years.

“On July 20, 2012, [James Holmes] came into our movie theater and started shooting people,” Young said. “He killed 12 that night, including my boyfriend at the time, Jonathan Blunk. Jon pushed me down and told me what was happening. He shielded me with his body as I heard gun fire, screams and finally his last breaths. I was also hit on my left side.”

Young said she hopes the documentary will raise awareness of the reality of PTSD.

“I was so naive about mental illness before being plagued by it myself,” Young said. “Immediately after the shooting…I started smoking cigarettes. I was a casual smoker before the event but never had a cigarette craving or bought packs for myself. Hours after the event, I craved a cigarette and became a pack-a-day smoker.”

Young said it was when she decided to quit smoking that the anxiety and PTSD began to kick in.

“(During) my first PTSD attack, I had no idea what I was feeling; I just knew I wasn’t feeling right,” Young said. “I was freaking out. I had never done drugs, so I started thinking someone had put acid in my food at McDonald’s. I literally started thinking, ‘Ok, this is what being high on acid feels like.'”

Young said she began to realize the extent of her anxiety when she continued having attacks not every time she ate at a restaurant but with normal tasks. She said she would go into fight or flight mode in everyday scenarios.

“I feel bad for the people that saw this; they were probably traumatized,” Young said. “Watching me hold my head, cry and breathe deep before dropping everything in the grocery store and making a b-line for the door. I have learned since to understand my mental illness, my triggers and what anxiety feels like, [then] usually I can talk myself down before having a complete meltdown.”

Like Young, Weisbrich said she hopes the documentary will not only bring awareness and education but also hope and happiness.

“[Those with PTSD] can still live a really fulfilled life,” Weisbrich said. “This one event doesn’t have to define your entire life.”

She said she recognized the documentary would require funding to create a quality film. Weisbrich set up a GoFundMe page to start raising money for the film’s production. The problem is many of the people who say they want to help with these kind of projects don’t end up donating, Weisbrich said.

“Really, you kind of have to hound your friends to share and to donate, which I’m really uncomfortable doing,” Weisbrich said with a laugh.

Other options for funding include grants, but those often require a trailer or parts of the film to be made in advance, which leads to reimbursement rather than upfront money, Weisbrich said.

Ben Braten, director of video production, said although online fundraising can be difficult, it is changing the way funding is happening in the film industry.

“Social media (and) the internet has changed funding for things like this dramatically,” Braten said. “GoFundMe and Kickstarter are really changing the entire dynamic of film funding. Smaller films are really turning in this direction, especially indie and esoteric projects.”

In addition to funding, getting the film crew together is another essential part of getting a film like Weisbrich’s made, Braten said.

“You need to figure out your existing infrastructure,” Braten said. “[Weisbrich] went and started talking to all of the friends that she made working in the (film) department, saying, ‘Ok, who’s interested in this? Who’s willing to help me out?’”

Both Braten and Weisbrich agreed that connections are what make projects like Weisbrich’s possible.

“[Making a film] is a daunting process because it’s a collaborative process,” Braten said. “Your contacts are everything. That’s one of the major advantages of coming to a school (like DSU), meeting people with common interests that are willing to work all day and all night to do something.”

Also important with a project like this is keeping motivation, Weisbrich said.

“Know your goal and the whole reason why you’re doing it,” Weisbrich said. “Also, don’t try to do it alone. Reach out to those people and those connections that you have…Don’t stress yourself out and try to wear all of the hats.”

Weisbrich plans to donate any leftover funding and a portion of the sales from the future art gallery and documentary to the PTSD Foundation of America.

For more information on the documentary, go to gofundme.com/ptsd-kola.