NEW YORK (AP) ― Mariel Hemingway says her greatest mission in life is to survive a family with a suicidal history.
For the past decade, the actress has been busy promoting suicide awareness and speaking on how lifestyle choices can affect mental well-being. She’ll do just about anything to prevent a suicide. That’s why her appearance in the cult film sensation “Archie’s Final Project” ― formerly known as “My Suicide” ― comes as no surprise.
“There’s been at least seven suicides in my family, so obviously appearing in the film had great significance for me,” Hemingway said in a recent interview.
Her older sister, Margaux, and famed novelist grandfather, Ernest, are among her losses. While Hemingway attributes their deaths partly to chemical imbalance, she blames them mostly on lifestyle choices.
“Creative families such as the Hemingways tend to have substance abuse, they tend to have depression, and all kinds of things,” Hemingway said. But she added, “There are lifestyle choices you can make that can at least lessen the severity.”
As for the film, “Archie’s Final Project” deals with teen suicide though the irreverent lens of a disenfranchised high school student. Rather than presenting it as a drama, the film takes a cheeky, comedic approach. But underneath those laughs lies a serious film that attempts to raise awareness.
And it’s succeeding. Through social media, the film has prompted a national conversation about the signs of teen suicide and how to deal with them, including the IamAnArchie awareness and prevention campaign.
Directed and co-written by David Lee Miller, the film tells the story of Archibald Williams (Gabriel Sunday), who announces that his final school video project will be filming his own suicide. Before long, Archie captures more attention than he could have ever imagined.
Through cynical dialogue, Archie recounts the rather clueless suicide interventions he receives, including a guidance counselor who thinks a lollipop can fix the problem.
Hemingway feels it’s important to tackle the subject this way, especially when given its teenage audience.
“Because there’s a lack of a sense of future when you’re that age, there seems to be this very dramatic response that life doesn’t seem to make sense,” Hemingway said.
Recently, there’s been increased attention paid to teenage abuse problems, including an anti-bullying campaign featuring celebrities and athletes. “Archie’s Final Project” sets out to deliver the same message, but with a different tone.
The film’s snappy dialogue, animation, and quick cuts may be regarded by some as unconventional, yet it speaks fluently to its target audience. Conceivably, every teenager could be Archie, just as everyone can know an Archie.
The 26-year old Sunday, who also co-wrote and edited the film, plays the title character. He made the film when he was in his early twenties, and feels its appeal lies in its realistic depiction of teens and their struggles. “Movies and mainstream media treat teens as emotionless and clueless ... but this film honestly portrays them,” Sunday said.
Hemingway agrees that irreverence helps get the point across.
“As serious a message as they are getting, they’re resonating with the humor,” she says. “Still, it’s a powerful statement that pulls the wool off of everybody’s eyes and says, ‘take a look, kids are really unhappy.’”
At the heart of the film is a quasi-love story between Archie and Sierra (Brooke Nevin). She’s the most popular girl in school, but also someone who carries a deep, dark secret of her own.
Hemingway plays her barbiturate-popping mother.
“I’m probably the most obnoxious character,” Hemingway said. “She’s awful, but she’s an important voice she’s somebody who’s completely in denial.”
While both witty and serious, Sunday sees the film as more than an anti-suicide film.
“It’s more about life because of the way we embrace the topic,’’ Sunday said.
According to Sunday, that approach has some teen suicide organizations worried. “This film has no in-between audience, you either love it or hate it,” Sunday admits. “But 15- and 16-year olds are loving it.”
The suicide rate among teens is currently on the rise after a lull during the mid-1990s, according to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. Miller attributes the increase to an overload of information.
Hemingway agrees: “I didn’t grow up like them. I didn’t grow up having access to any information I want via the Internet. ... They have too much information, and a lack of experience to absorb it.”
The film was made three years ago and survived on the festival circuit, where it’s won more than a dozen awards, yet no distributor would touch it.
But along the way, it gained momentum with special showings, and in September, the film had a limited release in New York, Los Angeles, and Santa Fe after AMC agreed to distribute it.
Now, it’s a social media sensation and on Dec. 6, it will be released on DVD.