Student documentary honored at film festival
Alyssa Lyon | Thursday, December 4, 2014
Katie Mattie, Vincent Moore and William Neal — 2014 Notre Dame graduates — won “Best Short Documentary” at the 2014 Sunset International Film Festival in May in Los Angeles for their film “The Suicide Disease.”
“The Suicide Disease” tells the story of Frances Shavers, former Notre Dame Chief-of-Staff, who suffers from Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN), a neurological disease that causes extreme facial pain, according to a Notre Dame press release.
“Our film is about Frances Shavers’ struggle with the disease and her extraordinary story of hope and courage,” Mattie said, describing Shavers as “remarkable” and “larger than life” despite her disease.
In the spring of 2013, Professor Ted Mandell, associate professional specialist for the FTT department, inspired the three filmmakers to tell Shavers’ story after showing them footage of Shavers suffering from a pain attack as a result of her condition.
Upon seeing the footage, the trio of students teamed up to tell Shavers’ important story, Mattie said.
“Frances suffers from 100-150 pain attacks daily, which can last anywhere from 20 seconds to 2 minutes,” she said. “My heart breaks when I think of Frances’ battle … and the amount of pain she endures because of it.”
The three filmmakers spent three months gathering footage for the documentary, even traveling to the Cleveland Clinic to meet with Shavers’ doctors.
“It was during that filming session [in the Cleveland Clinic] that we learned how severe her condition is, and [saw] what the emotional toll that TN has taken on Frances,” Mattie said.
Despite the severity of the disease, Shavers was a joy to work with, Mattie said.
“She really embraced the process of making the film and was fearless in sharing her vulnerability to the world,” Mattie said.
But it was Shavers’ sense of humor amongst the seriousness of the filming process that was most memorable for Mattie.
“One part of the film that I wish we could show more is Frances’ sense of humor and all of the moments when she would crack a joke, or just be adorable.”
Mattie said showing “The Suicide Disease” at the Sunset Film Festival and the trio’s experience was “incredible” and “a whirlwind.”
“We were in awe of the diversity of the films we saw at the festival, and the level of support from the directors of the event,” Mattie said.
The overall production of “The Suicide Disease” had a profound impact on the three filmmakers, Mattie said.
“What I took away … is the incredible capacity Frances has to love, hold onto faith, be vulnerable and courageous,” she said. “[Frances and her husband, George] have shown me a new level of love and support that I’ve never seen before.”
Mattie said that she hopes the film will provide hope to those with TN, as well as inspire others to help.
“Our goals [with this film] were to raise awareness [for] the disease, share Frances’ incredible faith and strength, connect with others living with chronic pain and if at all possible, be a call for someone to help Frances,” Mattie said.