How a St. Louis Filmmaker Is Raising Awareness About Mental Health Through His Art

 In Culture, News

When we see representation of mental illness on the big screen, we often view it through passive eyes. We witness the effects it has on the main character and the people that surround them, but rarely do we climb into their minds, to feel the weight of anxiety on their chest and hear the screams of self-doubt that run on repeat. There’s a barrier there that separates us from genuine empathy.

With “Enough” and “CYCLE,” two short films focused on mental health, St. Louis videographer,  filmmaker and advocate Jon Alexander has created character-driven pieces that emotionally tie the audience to the cast and help them recognize the warning signs of mental illness in their friends or family members—and even in themselves. In recognition of Mental Health Month this May, Alexander will host free public screenings of both films to spotlight the issue.

“Addressing mental health is important to me mainly because both of the films circle around young black men,” says Alexander. “Mental health has such a stigma on it, especially within the black community. So, my whole goal with both of these films is to really normalize these issues that people deal with every day—people who we know very closely who deal with different mental illnesses, whether that’s depression or anxiety or anything else. I want to make people see that it’s a very common thing.”

On May 17 at 8 p.m., Alexander will host a remastered, extended cut of his acclaimed short film “CYCLE” at TechArtista in the Central West End.

The introspective film follows Capshaun, a young black man struggling to break free from the cycle of anger, trauma and misunderstanding that swallow up so many youth. You hear in his own words the worries and nightmares that haunt him while watching the violence around him erupt. In a make-or-break moment, Capshaun refuses to let his troubled past make him another statistic and instead chooses to save himself through therapy.

Alexander follows up “CYCLE” with a screening of “Enough” on May 23 (location to be announced), which premiered at the Benton Park Film Festival in March. As the film unfolds, the audience steps into a hotel room with the lead character as he addresses the battle scars that have led to his emotionally and mentally abusive behaviors and the wounds he’s afflicted on others.

After honing his videography craft through music videos and documentaries, Alexander brings a raw, unfiltered approach to “Enough.” The piece features eight minutes of gripping, soul-shaking dialogue written and performed by Alexander and all shot on a single tripod.

“With this project, I wanted to work on sharpening my writing skills, so I really focused in on having the bare necessities to tell the story through the character and the setting and work around them, without the flash of fancy camera movements. It’s kind of going back to the basics and building on top of that.”

Today, in a world where mental health has emerged from the shadows but has yet to step into the spotlight, Alexander has discovered through his own experiences that art is critical in drawing awareness to the crisis and erasing the stigma that clings to it.

“From my perspective, I feel like messages like this are more well received through media and entertainment, which is why I feel filmmaking is very powerful in storytelling, just like music or art. It’s kind of one of the first steps. There’s plenty of literature out there, there are plenty of programs, there are plenty of organizations that help with it. But I feel there are one of two things—people aren’t looking for it or it’s not grabbing their attention. With more stories being told in entertainment and media, we’ll get more eyes on this thing and put it on people’s radars more.”

To view trailers of both films, learn more about upcoming screenings and get a first-hand look at Alexander’s library of works, visit chillseason.me.

Editor’s note: The full version of “CYCLE” can now be viewed online here.

Images courtesy of Jon Alexander.

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