Giving kids and adults permission to talk about anxiety and mental health is the goal of the documentary “Anxious Nation,” screening at the Coronado Island Film Festival (CIFF) on Saturday, November 12, at 1 pm in the Coronado Performing Arts Theater. Following the film, there will be a question and answer panel discussion with Director and Writer Vanessa Roth (one of the 2022 Tribute Honorees), Producer, Writer, and Co-Director Laura Morton, and Nora Vasconcellos, a professional skateboarder featured in the film.
Morton is the originator of this film, because she was seeking help as the mother of an anxious child. In the fall of 2018, she put up a simple social media post “Kids and Anxiety ~ who is dealing with it?” She was astounded by the number of responses from strangers she received, as well as many private messages from friends. The reaction to that one line made her want to understand what other families were experiencing, so in early 2019 she began her quest to find answers. Vanessa Roth was her first choice for director, but their schedules didn’t align at first, so Morton put together a crew and filmed in 2019 through 2021, pivoting when the pandemic threw a wrench in the schedule. With all the content complete, Morton still needed help shaping it into a compelling story. “I always seek out the best in everything I do,” says Morton, and she once again reached out to Roth, who happened to be available.
Morton highlights that they had 14 cameras in the field, many manned by kids recording their own journeys. This allowed them to capture anxiety in real time, and although Morton said the project began selfishly because her own family needed help, she has found it helpful for so many other families. “We took a leap of faith and my daughter and I are in the film. I’m especially proud of her as she allowed the cameras to follow her, even during vulnerable times.”
“I never experienced anxiety until I made a film about anxiety, but it has given me a better understanding of how to help my daughter and has strengthened our relationship. I knew that if I needed this information, every family could benefit from it,” comments Morton, who is a world class book collaborator, and has co-authored with many celebrities including Jennifer Hudson, Justin Bieber, Danica Patrick, Joan Lunden, and Al Roker, to name a few. She has more than 40 books to her credit, 20 of which are New York Times best sellers.
Morton had a contact with a former casting producer for the Ellen television show who helped get the word out to recruit families with young people who were open to talking about mental health in the U.S. There are several San Diego youth in the movie, like skateboarder Nora from Encinitas and Jonah from Carlsbad. There is also art from San Diego school children.
Having dealt with these issues herself, Roth was happy to step into the project. She is a highly acclaimed director, whose work has received the highest honors in documentary, film, television, and journalism, garnering more than 60 awards, including an Academy Award.
Their collective goal was to make kids feel seen and heard, with no shame for experiencing anxiety. They are proud of the bravery these young people showed in sharing their truths. Recruiting top mental health experts was part of the process to offer understanding and skills to help families. The film offers hope, while showing that anxiety doesn’t have to define a person. Morton and Ross concur that making this documentary was a labor of love. Both have a San Diego connection, with Morton growing up in Cardiff and Roth in Del Mar.
Roth says, “We talk about the combination of nature and nurture.” Viewers will see vulnerable moments with kids. Stylistically, she notes that this is not an educational film, but rather integrates artwork from youth around the world, animation, and archival cartoons, to make it enjoyable to watch as this difficult topic unfolds.
A major take away for parents is that starting a dialogue can have a profound impact. The feedback they have received demonstrates that this timely film has helped shift families’ thinking, making it acceptable to talk about these hard issues that society doesn’t always acknowledge. The film is designed to be full of inspiration, offering hope and real-life solutions.
“Anxious Nation” captures the many facets of anxiety through the lens of young people who are experiencing it. It’s startling to learn that one in three kids in the U.S. suffer from generalized anxiety, and 70 percent of teens, ages 13 to 17, view anxiety and depression as a major problem. Suicide rates in young people, ages 15 to 24, have tripled since the 1950s.
I’m looking forward to learning more from this film which takes a deep look into the crippling impact anxiety and mental health have on youth and their families today. To learn more, visit anxiousnation.com. Details on all the films and panels at the CIFF can be found at coronadofilmfest.com.