Filmmaker’s project focuses on family’s tragedy

Since she first got involved in documentary films 20 years ago, Kathy Leichter’s work has always bee
Kathy Leichter
Kathy Leichter

Since she first got involved in documentary films 20 years ago, Kathy Leichter’s work has always been about making something of real value. That certainly hasn’t changed with her latest effort, “Here One Day.”

Recently selected Best Full-length Feature at the Scottish Mental Health and Arts Film Festival held in Edinburgh, “Here One Day” is a 75-minute documentary about the suicide of Leichter’s mother. In 1995, after battling depression for 20 years, Nina Leichter jumped out a window of her 11th floor apartment in New York City, to her death. She left behind a loving and attentive family that included her husband, Franz, a former state senator, and two grown children. At the time, Kathy Leichter was 28 and working at the PBS station in Pittsburgh, and her younger brother, Joshua, was 24.

“Here One Day” will be screened Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library. Presented by the Community Human Services of Saratoga County, the film will be followed by a discussion and question-and-answer session hosted by Leichter. She has been visiting libraries, hospitals, schools, colleges and community centers around the country to talk about her film and bring the conversation around mental health issues more into the mainstream.

The film was a project Leichter wasn’t ready to deal with until 2004, nine years after her mother’s death. But before she turned the focus on her own family, she also directed or produced various issue-oriented films, including her PBS award-winning film about welfare recipients in New York City, “A Day’s Work, A Day’s Pay.”

‘Here One Day’

‘Here One Day’

WHAT: A screening and discussion with director/producer Kathy Leichter about her film, “Here One Day”

WHERE: Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library, 475 Moe Road, Clifton Park

WHEN: Wednesday, check-in at 6 p.m., film begins at 6:30 p.m.


MORE INFO: 399-4624,

In 1988, Leichter graduated from Cornell University with a degree in film and creative writing. After working in New Haven, she landed a position with a PBS station in Pittsburgh, WQED, where she helped produce a national series on health care reform during the Clinton administration. During that time she also worked on the popular children’s show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Leichter moved back into her parents’ apartment, where she had grown up, soon after her mother’s death. She and her husband have two boys, ages 10 and 13.

Q: When did you finish the film?

A: I started in 2004 and finished in 2012. It had a world premiere at a very prestigious film festival in Amsterdam, and then a long and successful festival tour, including just recently winning an award in Scotland. Then, since last year, I’ve been doing screenings and education programs with the film. I see it as a real opportunity for mental health education awareness. We’ve shown it to mental health professionals, professors, nurses, social workers and psychiatrists at UCSF, Columbia, NYU and other schools. I show the film and then I lead a discussion on how mental health issues impact a family. But I also think the general population needs to talk about these issues more, and the film provides a way to do that. My goal is to start a conversation and to begin dissolving the stigma around these issues. The more we talk about them, the more they’re out in the open, the stigma, the fear and the isolation can start to fall away.

Q: Did you have any resistance from family members when you decided to make the film?

A: At first my brother felt it was too private and asked not to be in the film, and I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to keep him out of this?’ But I made a short trailer for the film, he watched it and said, “I have to be in this. This is my story, too.”

My father, my aunt and my mother’s friend all are featured prominently in the film and they were always supportive. I thought my father, who still lives in New York, was very courageous. He was very brave, and the interviews with him are very powerful. He can really get quite emotional in an understated way.

Q: Can you talk about your own reluctance to delve into your mother’s suicide?

A: I had resisted dealing with it through film, but after nine years and a lot of therapy I decided to start working on it, and I experienced a new wave of grief. It was surprising to me but also wonderful, because it let me do the emotional work and creative work, which I love, to help me heal and to help other people as well, and that’s very gratifying.

Q: Why did you decide to move back to your parents’ home?

A: I was in Pittsburgh working but I felt like I needed to be with my dad. It was hard but also very healing. We still live in the same apartment and it’s a powerful memory — what happened here. There’s the dining room window she jumped out of. The boys know about it, it’s something we speak about openly because we try not to keep too many secrets. For me it was kind of like going back into the womb. I really grieved, but I feel like I have emerged now. I’ve gone through it and I’m healthy.

Q: Your mother’s voice is throughout the film. Talk about the audio tapes you discovered when you moved back into the apartment.

A: There were eight hours of tape of her speaking to herself, but I knew I couldn’t deal with it so close to her suicide. Mom liked to document things like I do, and she was a gifted writer and poet. I had actually completed a version of the film without listening to the tapes because I didn’t want to deal with them. But I also knew that needed to listen to them.

Near the end of the editing process I brought in the tapes to my editor. She listened to them first, and while she was transcribing them I looked across the room at her and she was sobbing. I was so afraid but I put on the headphones and listened to them, too, and I had this great discovery.

Instead of being terrifying or horribly sad, I had this amazing gift of my mother talking for eight hours. She was being funny, creative, sarcastic, exciting, pithy. It completely transformed the film, and people who see it now can’t imagine how I had done a film without it. My mom becomes the storyteller, and it is her story.

Q: Did you ever experience any survivor’s guilt?

A: I think most survivors do, and it’s very hard not to feel some guilt. You want to say, “oh, I could have done more,” and our mental health care system is very difficult to navigate. But I actually did provide a lot of care for my mother, and it probably wasn’t that healthy for me or her. She started having problems when I was 6 or 7. She’d slam the door and leave the apartment at 11 o’clock at night when she had two young kids at home. She told me she started taking medications for her mood swings and I remember being puzzled by that. “Who is my real mother? The person on drugs or the person without the drugs?”

Q: Are you working on another film?

A: I’m going to continue to screen this film for a while. My mom was an amazing person, and when she made the tapes she was very self aware. She knew what she was going through, and my aunt has told me how she was a mental health advocate herself and would lead support groups. So I’m going to continue to show this film and talk about mental health issues. And while it’s great to talk about it, watching the film you really get to know what the experience was like for Nina. The more we hear stories like hers, the more we can remove the stigma around mental health issues.

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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