We Are One Film Festival 2020
Nate Townsend
Wake Up: Stories from the Frontlines of Suicide Prevention
World Premiere


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Wake Up: Stories from the Frontlines of Suicide Prevention emerged from this collective movement. The film sheds light on four different groups with varied stories to tell about suicide—American veterans, members of the LGBT community, university students, and gun owners. Through their testimony, the film weaves a diverse tapestry of experiences into a multifaceted narrative of the heroes on the frontlines. 


As it delves deeper into their experiences, Wake Up confronts tragedy with a call to action: by exploring ways to start thoughtful conversations and push for systemic legislative change, it foregrounds steps to a better world.

Hi Nate thank you for talking to TNC, has this time offered you any creative inspiration?

It wasn't at first, but absolutely is now. I primarily work as a commercial director, so when my Spring was wiped clean, I was devastated. I normally live a pretty fast-paced work life that has me on the road many months out of the year, so when the jobs disappeared, and I was confined to my home, it was a pretty big shock. Soon after, as the consequences of Covid became more apparent, I allowed myself to press the reset button, and focus on more meaningful projects that could positively impact society. Wake Up was already finished, so sharing that with the world became a priority -- especially right now, as the suicide crisis is more dire than ever.

Wake Up: Stories from the Frontlines of Suicide Prevention will have its World Premiere at the We Are One Film Festival, what does it mean for you to be sharing your film in such a unique way?

It is an honor and privilege to screen at We Are One, and to be in the company of other films and filmmakers from these various festivals. Although we're not getting a chance to walk the red carpet, we are far more excited for the chance to share Wake Up with as broad an audience as possible. I view it as a historic opportunity, and powerful way to share our message of mental healthcare and suicide prevention with the world.

Will nerves set in ahead of your premiere?

There are definitely nerves as this will be the first time we premiere this film publicly. We have done plenty of screenings within the mental health field, but never anything with a mainstream reach. I hope the film will resonate with people that don't necessarily have a vested interest in this subject. As we aim to end the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide, this will be our most important audience.

When did you first hear about Project Wake Up and what was it about the work they are doing that interested you as a filmmaker?

When the founder of Project Wake Up, Alex Lindley, approached me to work on this film, I was inspired and drawn to the opportunity from the start. He had just lost his second friend to suicide, and was committed to making a film that would save lives. I had lost an uncle to suicide, and also lost my brother Alex in a car accident. I was eager to make a film about this issue, and deeply related to Alex's desire to create something positive in the wake of grief.

In 2015 you directed a short film for Project Wake Up can you tell me a little bit about how you began expanding this into a feature documentary?

In 2015, after the loss of their friend Ryan Candice, a group of college students, led by Alex Lindley, crowd-funded $30,000. They started the Project Wake Up Foundation, and recruited me to direct a film. I suggested that we produce a short film about the loss of Ryan, which they could use to kickstart the foundation. Over the following three years, Project Wake Up raised more than $250,000 -- and we got started on the feature soon after.

You have changed the focus of the documentary to include veterans, the LGBTQ community, university students, and gun owners why was it important for you to put the focus of this film on these four groups?

While researching and conducting interviews for the film, it struck me how many communities are fighting this battle, and the many different ways in which they are fighting. I wanted to show that the issue of mental health and suicide spans far beyond any one group or one type of person. By threading these stories together, my hope is that audiences will draw parallels between them, and walk away with the common theme that all of these communities are under-resourced.
Because of the subject matter did you have any apprehensions about approaching people to be part of the documentary?

I did not have any apprehensions recruiting people to be a part of this film, mainly due to our approach. We started by focusing on the experts in the field, and from there, we were introduced to people willing and open to discuss their experiences with suicide. That's not to say it wasn't difficult -- both for the filmmakers and the subjects -- but we all understood how important it was to share these stories. It helped immensely to rely on guidance from experts and clinicians as we navigated those conversations. It was also important to earn the trust of the film's participants. At this point, I would consider most of them family.

What was the most challenging aspect of making this film?

The most challenging part of making this film was likely the same challenges faced by many documentary filmmakers. As my background is primarily in scripted narrative and commercial production, I'm used to having the blueprints with me -- the script, the shot list, the boards, etc. Each segment of Wake Up was shot in a different part of the country, and relied on high-end equipment and skilled crew. It was nerve wracking to invest in one of these shoots without knowing the challenges that might present themselves. It really wasn't until the film started coming together in the edit that we all knew that the risks paid off.

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

I have had a passion for filmmaking my entire life. From summer film academies during high school, to film school at LMU in LA, filmmaking was a path I always knew I wanted to go down.

" I'm also continuing to direct commercials and music videos, but remotely, or with strict social distancing guidelines."

Do you have any advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?

The best advice I can give is to just create, create, create. We live in a time where film equipment and resources are more accessible than ever. Anyone with an iPhone can be a storyteller. I like to think of my projects as "at-bats." The more opportunities you take to create, the more you learn, and the better chance you have to succeed.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently developing a scripted narrative feature that addresses the themes of grief, loss, and legacy. Tough to say much more about that at the moment. I'm also continuing to direct commercials and music videos, but remotely, or with strict social distancing guidelines. Things are definitely interesting for the industry right now.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Wake Up: Stories from the Frontlines of Suicide Prevention?

We hope that audiences will learn more about suicide prevention, become more comfortable talking about the issue, and know how to respond in the face of a crisis. We also hope that audiences leave inspired to take action -- whether that be providing resources to a friend or family member, seeking help themselves, or finding ways to contribute to the organizations involved in the film.