This year’s film is “Unseen,” and it touches on a cultural issue that is extremely pertinent to today’s teenagers. The film centers around a man and his grandson, both of whom live in Ireland. After finding his grandson Owen preparing to end his own life, Alexander takes him along on an errand. As the day unfolds, Owen learns new information about his grandfather’s past and unlocks the secret to facing his own future.
“Suicide is the hot topic of discussion in teen culture right now,” said Eric Epperson, CIY’s senior director of Æffect and the writer/producer of the film. “We want to create a space where people can have healthy conversations and get help. A lot of people have been told that if they talk about it, that can be negative. But it actually can help people who are struggling and bring unseen things to life. Hope is found by bringing unseen things to light.”
Epperson said the film is timely, but the first steps down the path toward its creation weren’t intentional toward addressing such a timely issue. As with most CIY-produced films, the Holy Spirit really led the way in the creation of the story and has set the stage well for CIY to be a powerful influencer for a lot of students and youth groups in regards to suicide and mental illness. And Epperson pointed out that even those who aren’t suicidal can still carry unseen burdens that they need to talk about with someone.
“We all need Alexanders in our lives who will walk with us and help us process and hear us and know us for who we are,” he said. “As CIY MOVE and MIX look at the life of Peter this summer and the relationship between him and Jesus, students will be able to quickly see that he was a guy who followed Jesus closely but he wasn’t perfect. He messed up a lot. Jesus’ presence and grace and ultimately even purpose for Peter’s life was what restored him. We’ll be talking a lot this summer about how Jesus takes upon our sin and guilt and shame and it’s bound to the cross with him. He carries that. He doesn’t just offer hope for Heaven, but also hope in this life. He tells us that this life is worth living and does have purpose and meaning through His death and resurrection. When Jesus defeated death, He didn’t just save us for after we die. He gave us hope for this life and connected us to life. And we want students to understand through this film that the worst thing is never the last thing. One of my favorite lines in the film is what Alexander says to Owen when he’s asked why God doesn’t just take away the pain. His response is, ‘I don’t know … but God doesn’t waste our pain.’”
The two main actors in the film are Ireland and Northern Ireland natives. Alexander is played by Bob Carley, who also served as a primary source of information on the suicide crisis that affects the countries of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Carley has had multiple TED Talks on mental illness and has been an advocate for more education on the subjects of mental illness and suicide for many years.
Owen is played by Desmond Eastwood, a professional actor who CIY found through Jillian Reynolds Casting. Eastwood is based out of Belfast and, according to Film Director MD Neely, was chosen because of how well he listened and connected to the material within the script.
“You could tell in his eyes that he was connecting with the material,” Neely said. “I knew the performance was going to have some times where there was big emotion, but also times that were really nuanced and intimate. I felt like he could be that guy, and when I brought him to Eric’s attention and he saw the audition he said, ‘That guy is awesome.’ He really gave us an amazing performance.”
Epperson said the reason for choosing Ireland as the setting for the film is twofold: first, because it’s a country that deals more with suicide than most other countries in the world; and second, because CIY is currently expanding its ministry into the country. The film will not only serve as a conversation starter for students this summer, but will also alert students to peers just like them in Ireland for whom they can begin to pray and raise support as CIY continues to amplify Christ’s call on students’ lives to be Kingdom workers both in the U.S. and throughout the world.
“Unseen” will premiere at weeks of MOVE and MIX this summer to approximately 45,000 students and adult leaders. The film will also be submitted to several film festivals around the world, and Epperson said CIY is hopeful to develop additional partnerships for distribution of the film through educational and church/ministry avenues. CIY’s films have previously won awards at festivals and have been shown to global audiences, and hopes are high that “Unseen” will see similar success.