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: