Actor Robert Walters recently received a Best Male Emerging Talent nomination at the British Urban Film Festival for Remembrance Day, a short film he co-wrote. Hot off of his movie success, What’s Hot London? interviews him about another project in which he has a more personal involvement. He talks in-depthly about feature-length documentary Suicide: The Ripple Effect and his plans for a screening in Piccadilly alongside the Stateside premiere.
Can you tell us more about this documentary Suicide: The Ripple Effect? Just a brief synopsis to enlighten our readers.
The documentary ‘Suicide: The Ripple Effect’ tells the story of Kevin Hines who, at age 19, attempted to take his own life by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Seventeen years later, he still struggles daily with many of the same symptoms of bipolar disorder which led him to that attempt, but he is on a mission to use his story to help others stay alive and has gone on to become one of the top speakers on suicide prevention and mental health awareness in the United States. Kevin has also been one of the catalysts in helping end a nearly 80-year long fight to construct a suicide prevention net on the iconic San Francisco bridge. In the film, Kevin takes a journey to better understand the ripple effects his suicide attempt had on his family, friends, and the emergency workers who helped him save him. The film also glimpses at other inspiring individuals, families and organisations who are using personal pain to help others find the hope they need to heal and ‘be here tomorrow’ which is one of his mantras.
What was the inspiration behind it and who are the key figures behind its creation and production?
Kevin Hines was the inspiration behind the film. When I first met him in person (we had been corresponding with telephone calls and emails before that) he told me he wanted to make a film to spread the message and end the apparent taboo which surrounds suicide. He was also halfway through finishing his autobiography ‘Cracked Not Broken’. Well, that book is now published and is a very frank, brutally honest and moving read for anyone who has ever suffered from severe depression. The book was a tremendous success in America and this gave Kevin more drive than ever to complete his film. On meeting director and fellow mental health worker Greg Dicharry at various conferences and discovering their mutual love of film, Kevin spoke of his hope of producing a documentary and Greg came on board. The film has many champions, most of whom are fellow suicide survivors or those with a ‘lived experience’ and it is these people (of whom I am just one) that are getting the film shown throughout the world.
Kevin’s story is very moving and powerful. How did you get to know him?
Completely by chance . . . or fortuitous circumstance. In 2009 I had already tried to end my own life twice and was determined to make the third attempt a ‘success’. I was up late one night researching all sorts of ‘fool-proof’ ways (of course, there are none) as I am a coward and would want as little amount of pain as possible and a guarantee that I would not wake up still alive and hideously maimed or disabled. Anyway, throughout this futile search, I stumbled across loads of disgusting websites that actually encourage people to commit suicide. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! Even though I was totally focused on ending my life, to read messages on forums from complete strangers to one another encouraging them to die and that ‘the world would be better off without you’ was quite an eye-opener. Then, I found a documentary called ‘The Bridge’ which completely and utterly changed my life. I had heard the expression ‘this film changed my life’ and never ever believed it until it actually happened to me. This documentary was directed by Eric Steel and came out in about 2006 I think. What Steel did was to set up 24hr cameras all over the Golden Gate Bridge and film continuously for a year. He mislead the bridge authorities that he was making a wildlife documentary or something and wanted to observe migrating birds and all that – however, what he was actually doing was capturing footage of people killing themselves off of that bridge.
(Left) Rob Walters (Right) Kevin Hines
I know it sounds absolutely horrendous but I urge anyone who has ever had a suicidal thought to watch it. It is NOT a snuff film at all. It actually was the catalyst for making the bridge authorities (along with Kevin’s help and campaigners) realise the full horror of the bridge and what went on there almost daily, Appearing in this film was Kevin Hines, a man who had actually jumped and survived. I was hooked and hung on his every word. To me, he was still in a bad place (I could see that even during my own darkness) and I have told Kevin several times that when ‘The Bridge’ finished I was expecting some text to come up on the screen underneath his picture telling us that ‘since we made this film Kevin sadly took his own life…’
Thankfully, that never happened. As I was watching this on YouTube, I saw in the suggested videos down the right-hand side, more videos of this Kevin, speaking publicly about his experience. I watched it. I watched another one, and then another. Was this the same bloke? He seemed so together now, so focused and not the person I had watched twenty minutes earlier. A different person completely. I noticed that the person who uploaded the video was Kevin himself, he had an account – so I messaged him. It was almost like I was compelled to. Here was one person who could totally understand what I was going through when no one else could. Within 24 hours I got a reply. We became pen pals for about six months and then exchanged numbers. We’d talk on the phone frequently and (when he was able to decipher my London accent) we became good friends. Jump forward two years to 2011, when I went on holiday to America for the first time and we met up. That’s how it all started.
What’s your involvement in the project?
My involvement in the film began when I met Kevin for the first time in 2011. He told me of his plans to make the documentary and said he would love for me to be a part of it. I am ashamed to say that I was very reluctant at first to be a part of it, mostly because I didn’t want to make my story public and also (and I am ashamed to say this) but as I am trying to become an actor, I didn’t want to be known as ‘That geezer that tried to top himself’ – I have since realised that I more than likely won’t achieve my dream anyway and to overlook such an important project for that pathetic, self-obsessed reason is ludicrous. In any case, should I ever get to act for a living I know damn well that I would never be involved in anything as crucial and life-changing as ‘Suicide: The Ripple Effect’ anyway.
So it was on one very hot July day in 2015 that I went to a flat in Westbourne Park and met with a director, sound-man and cameraman who I never knew, sat down and bared my soul to them all about what I tried to do to myself. It was very uncomfortable and I wasn’t in the greatest frame of mind. I was completely candid and open (as Kevin had requested I be) but I’m afraid I said a few things that on reflection, would never have been kept in the film. One of which was when the director, who was also firing pre-determined questions at me given by. Kevin, asked what had led me to contemplate such an irrational act. My answer was very simple “I don’t like it here”. I said you only have to read a paper or watch the telly every day to see the nastiness and evil that we do to each other daily, and I wanted out, finishing with “People are horrible… people are cunts” – and I meant it.
As soon as it was sent to Kevin and he had watched it he was on the phone to me saying how proud he was of me and how ‘powerful’ my piece was. I couldn’t see how. My trepidation began to grow again and I suddenly began to feel like I had made a mistake. I couldn’t remember half of what I had said but I did remember the line I quoted above. What sort of nutter was I going to come across as? As it turned out I needn’t have worried, Kevin rang a few months later and was very apologetic as he told me that all the interviews with survivors such as myself were to be cut. His producers had advised him that the film should be mostly his story and if the accounts of the others he had interviewed were to be left in, the running time would be immense! Quite right too. I can say here and now that is the only time I have been elated to hear I have hit the cutting room floor! I am in the film briefly singing Kevin’s praises about his work and how he selflessly is there for others, and that is exactly as it should be.
Dr John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has publicly stated that this movie will save lives. Can you tell us how this documentary aims to give advice and direction for people facing similar issues regarding suicide?
Having had the privilege of already seeing the film, the very core of it is hope and resilience. Not just from Kevin but from others who have overcome their demons and gone on to flourish as well as those who have been bereaved by suicide and in the midst of their grief, have gone on to tirelessly campaign for Mental Health Awareness, suicide prevention and other life-changing things like the net being erected on the bridge. In the very filming of the documentary, the ‘ripple effects’ of Kevin’s work are glaringly obvious. A man admits that he was going to kill himself the very day Kevin was going to do one of his speeches and he attended and that very speech made him reconsider. Of course, unfortunately, there will always be people that have incessant mental pain that compels them to take the kind of drastic action I tried, but hopefully, if this film can reach the very people it needs to they will see that they can overcome it and go on to thrive and lead productive and happy lives.
Finally, you are personally organising and presenting a screening of the movie in Piccadilly on April 4th. Please give us more details about the screening.
The film premiered in February in America and has since been shown in Australia (as many Australians feature in it) and has further showings scheduled in Canada and Ireland. As the only English person in the film, I felt urged to fly the flag for my country and host a screening myself. This is happening on April 4th at 7 pm at The Vue Cinema, Piccadilly. The event is not yet confirmed as I have to sell another 29 tickets by March 26th. A donation of all ticket sales is going to the Maytree, a refuge for suicidal people in North London, which is the charity I have chosen to support. Kevin asked if I would address the audience before the showing and tell my story, which I have decided to do. I’m very nervous but as the film’s message is to talk about suicide and I am in it, what kind of hypocrite would I be to not follow suit? I welcome any and every person who would like to attend and I have provided a link to the screening and also here’s the official trailer.