Friday, May 2nd, 2014
David Lascher, a father of three and an actor (who you may know from Blossom or Sabrina the Teenage Witch), made his directorial debut with Sister last week at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. And let me tell you: Pray that this film gets a theatrical release because it is powerful, provocative, and incredibly moving.
Delicately written by Lascher and his co-writer Todd Camhe, the story follows the relationship of Billy Presser (Reid Scott, Veep) and his adopted kid sister, Niki (Grace Kaufman), who suffers from ADHD, reactive attachment disorder, intermittent explosive disorder and other associated conditions. When their mother (Barbara Hershey) is hospitalized due to her bipolar disorder and unable to care for Niki—who’s been tossed out of boarding school after boarding school for her violent behavior—Billy is forced to take in the sibling he never took the time to know. A floundering actor, this isn’t exactly the ideal time for Billy to handle these problems, but life doesn’t ask permission.
Loosely based on Lascher’s own life, the story raises awareness for ADHD and mental illness while shedding light on the quick-to-diagnose quick-to-medicate approach that has become routine in our country. “The message of the film is that every child is an individual and every diagnosis, whatever it is, should be done on an individual basis and not this mass diagnosis which is going on,” said Camhe. Camhe and Lascher wrote Billy as a vehement opposer of drugs who suddenly takes Niki off the meds she had been on since the age of 5.
But the team behind Sister is careful to balance this perspective through the character of a school psychiatrist (John Heard) who speaks on behalf of the many children who have thrived on medication. What results is an insightful debate through storytelling that will be sure to provoke a dialogue among viewers. “We consulted with leading experts and really treated the disorder in a very serious way,” said Camhe. “I don’t want to pretend that we have all the answers,” added Lascher. “This is one story. If there’s any message it’s: Take a closer look.”
In fact, Lascher and Camhe started the Our Kids First Foundation to raise awareness and spark discussion about ADD, ADHD, and other related conditions. “This is just a first and in ways small but important step to raise that awareness,” said Scott. “I think a lot of people are going to relate. Everybody knows someone that’s going through one of these issues.” It’s true. With ADD and ADHD becoming more common diagnoses, (as scientific advisor to the Foundation Dr. Steven Hinshaw writes his new book The ADHD Explosion) we all seem to know someone affected by it. “Our hope is that people connect with [the movie] and it gets them talking, sharing their stories, their experiences,” said Camhe.
But, even if you don’t harbor a personal connection to this issue, audiences will undoubtedly relate to the trials of a family in crisis. At the heart of the movie is an account of a family of strangers stuggling to reconnect. As Niki pulls Billy from his self-pitying slump and as Billy begins to embrace his responsibility to care for Niki, their relationship blossoms. In fact, it’s an enlightening account of parenting that even the cast and crew learned from. “Listen to your kids,” Scott quoted as his lesson. “They might not have the vocabulary or the mental dexterity that we have as adults, but they’re real people fresh out of the womb and they have something really valuable to say.” Only when we listen and communicate can we emulate the bond that Sister is all about.
Catch a clip from Sister here.
See what the unbelievably talented Grace Kaufman has to say about playing Niki and dealing with challenges in her own life in the video player below:
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ADD, adhd, diagnosis, film, hyperactivity, kids and mental illness, mental illness, movie, Sister the movie, Tribeca Film Festival | Categories:
News, The Parents Perspective
Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
By Warren Hynes
Warren Hynes is a teacher and freelance writer. This post originally appeared on his blog, The Pitch: Baseball & Life.
For the past 12 years, I’ve found it fascinating to be a father to daughters. My two girls have brought me on an eye-opening cultural journey that has covered Elmo and Dora, Disney princess dresses, American Girl dolls, pretend-school lessons, pet guinea pigs, and performances of Wicked both on Broadway and in our living room. Lately, their activity has focused on some songs from the soundtrack to Disney’s latest animated feature, Frozen – the album that stands behind only Bruce Springsteen’s new record among the best-selling LPs in the nation. The songs, which sound more Broadway-ready than the typical multiplex fare, are bolstered by the voice of Idina Menzel, the actress who originated the role of Elphaba in Wicked and Maureen in Rent.
In our home, the girls have been blasting the Frozen songs from our little Bose speakers and lip-synching their way through the whole show. In the car, even with no music on, they’ll practice certain lines together. They’ve seen the movie twice, and are clamoring for thirds. When our youngest turned nine three weeks ago, she asked for a cake in the shape of the film’s snowman character.
Now I’m no cheerleader of Disney’s traditional portrayal of young female characters. The funny thing about this movie, though, is that even though all of the typical princess set pieces are there – the castle, the gowns, the big eyelashes, the handsome love interest – this film is ultimately about none of those things. It’s about two sisters, and their overriding love for each other. It’s about how far you’ll go to protect and save the best friend you have in the world. In our house, that’s a story worth some attention.
As my girls sing along to the film’s song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” we hear the story of a younger sister who is being pushed away by her older sister, and can’t understand the reason for it: “We used to be best buddies / And now we’re not / I wish you would tell me why.” The younger sister asks once more for some play time, but after being told to go away, she hangs her head and sings, “Okay, bye.” As I hear my girls singing this together, I recognize that we’re getting close to the time when this exact scenario will play out in our home. Katie is 12, and she’s spending more and more time in her room trying on makeup, watching YouTube videos and, yes, texting. At nine, Chelsea is more interested in playing with her older sister than in spending time alone in her room. More often than not, Katie still plays with Chelsea. But those moments of rejection are nearing, like the gathering of dusk before night falls.
When it comes to music, I find it incredibly annoying to hear the same song over and over. But as my girls sing the Frozen tunes together countless times – and, to be honest, they’ve got a third singer in their group in the form of my wife – I can’t help but feel some relief amid the repetition. Because it seems that Katie and Chelsea have found something that transcends age differences and hormonal swings. They share a love for music and performance, and that love may connect them when other things do not. My brother and I are three years apart, just like my girls are. As kids, we had our stretch of time when I needed my space from him. But we always had our sports, be it a Yankees game on the TV or a 1-on-1 basketball game in the backyard. Even when we shared few words, there was still plenty of communication in the form of a last-second jumper on the patio, or a Dave Winfield home run on the basement TV.
My brother turns 40 in two weeks; I just turned 43. We talk about a lot of things now, as adult siblings do. But we still have a soft spot for the sports stuff. Years from now, I can see Katie and Chelsea spending an afternoon together, perhaps at one of their apartments, or maybe out shopping. There comes a point when they turn on some music. For fun, they click on the Frozen album. They smile, and start singing. Together.
We only have each other / It’s just you and me / What are we gonna do? / Do you wanna build a snowman?
Image courtesy of Disney.
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