“Coming Up for Air,” an award-winning feature drama filmed in Muskegon and set to make its world premiere tonight, is garnering national acclaim for igniting powerful conversations surrounding mental health—and the movie shines a light on an increasingly vibrant entertainment industry in this area.
The movie—which was shot in Muskegon and throughout the Lakeshore, features actors from Muskegon, and is a project from Glenside Productions and Heartland Independent Film Forum, both of which are based in Muskegon—opens in theaters around the country today, Sept. 20. Locally, it will be shown at Cinema Carousel in Norton Shores beginning Sept. 20 and at the Grand Haven 9 theater beginning Sept. 23. It will celebrate its world premiere at Detroit’s Redford Theater today as well.
“There’s a great crew and a great cast,” said Muskegon resident Roger Rapoport, the producer and co-screenwriter for “Coming Up for Air,” a producer with Glenside Productions, and the director of the Heartland Independent Film Forum. “There’s no better place to shoot a movie than Michigan.”
Made with the intent of exploring the impact of mental health on families, “Coming Up for Air” tells the story of ceramic artist Anna Russell and her son Stan, a straight-A college student and high diving champion with aspirations of competing in the Olympics. The pressure and stress to succeed in both his athletic and academic endeavors, while still having a social life, begins to take a serious toll on Stan, who the audience watches unravel and withdraw into himself. When Stan suddenly disappear, Anna must find him on a journey that highlights the importance of mental health care and the significant role caregivers play in helping friends, family and patients living with mental illness.
“This very topical new film will inspire empathy and awareness of the complexities of personal responsibility,” Robert Cicchini, the film’s director and a veteran actor who has been in such works as “Godfather III” and “Six Feet Under,” said in a press release. “It addresses how crises that may lead to tragedy can be de-escalated and creates an appreciation of the impact mental health has on families. It will also support community discussions of the real conditions and biases toward mental health treatment.”
Filmed in Muskegon, Grand Haven, Holland, Ludington, Grand Rapids, and other Michigan cities,the movie stars Deborah Staples, a Milwaukee-based actress who co-wrote the script with Rapoport, as Anna Russell and Chase Yi, a successful film and stage actor who grew up in Kalamazoo, as Stan Russell. It too features a number of local actors, including: Judy Johnson, Kim Harsch, Ray Brazaski, Mickey Wallace, Tom Harryman, Foley Schuler, Jacqui Robinson, Diane Van Wesep, Bill Iddings, Christopher Beaman, Liz Nolan, Joe Hasper, Mary Jamieson, and Filis Slater. The cast has landed significant acclaim, including winning the best cast award at Detroit’s I See You Awards, which recognizes independent films. The pictures also took home six other awards, including best picture.
Wallace, an on-air personality at 103.7 The Beat who not long ago returned to Muskegon from Los Angeles—where he was heavily involved in the entertainment field, emphasized the vital role the film is playing in advocating for mental health.
“After the first script reading, meeting the producers and writer, and understanding the message of the film, I knew I had to be involved in any capacity I could,” said Wallace, who plays the character of “Les” in the movie. “Mental health is a matter that we as a community should always be apt to discuss and address head-on. This movie would not only open doors for myself, but for others that look like me to take an interest in having those much-needed discussions with those closest to us. In addition, I knew it would aid in tackling social barriers that would allow us to see the humanity and commonality in us all.”
Wallace—whose part in the movie was filmed at the Muskegon Community College Lakeshore Fitness Center—hopes the film will inspire conversation among families who may have previously swept mental health issues under the rug.
“Most times, in suburban middle-class families, it’s perceived that kids don’t have much to be anxious over—and that is far from the truth, as we are seeing more instances in society where those same overlooked teens are using guns, drugs, and self harm to express their trauma,” Wallace said. “I hope that our citizens and government officials take a more serious look into the way we treat mental health and identify it earlier on in all communities. It’s not just a poor or people of color issue, it’s a human issue. It’s a sickness, not a crime.”
A major focus for the film’s team is rooted in inspiring and supporting dialogue around mental health and providing mental health resources. In the months leading up to its national release, the team behind the film have held community forums surrounding mental health throughout Michigan, from Muskegon to Kalamazoo and beyond. Too, at the screenings happening around the country this week, there will be mental health organizations at the theaters providing information to movie-goers.
“We’ve been having town halls all over the state,” Rapoport said. “We’ve had events at churches, women’s clubs, all over. The fact is that mental healthcare is quite good and available here. Muskegon has a crisis team that will come to your house 24/7. The schools are getting more counselors for mental health and suicide prevention.”
“There’s plenty of talent and experience around to help you get past these bad moments; that’s what this movie is about,” Rapoport continued. “At the end of the movie, we have information about where you can go to get help.”
Set to showcase Muskegon’s talent to the country, the film too is a celebration of the local entertainment industry—particularly the role that the Heartland Independent Film Forum is playing in making movies in this area. With Rapoport at its helm, the Muskegon-based nonprofit organization has created such films as “Waterwalk” and “Pilot Error.”
A North Muskegon native, Rapoport moved to California after college and went on to become a book publisher, journalist, and author. After working on the west coast for years, he returned 15 years ago to Muskegon, where he now lives with his wife, former Hackley Public Library Director Martha Ferriby.
“As a nonprofit, we have a lot of community support,” Rapoport said of the Heartland Independent Film Forum. “A lot of people, myself included, donated to Heartland to support this movie.”
The producer too noted it has been “much easier shooting here than other places” because of both the acting and technical talent, as well as the larger community support.
As audiences fill theaters to watch “Coming Up for Air,” Wallace emphasized the film will “show the diversity…of what Muskegon can produce.”
“This film will help local actors think of themselves as contestants on the world stage of film and show that we don’t necessarily need to leave for a bigger city to ‘make it’ in the industry,” Wallace said. “We are good enough and we have what we need and what it takes to put our city on the entertainment map.”
To find out more about “Coming Up for Air,” including screening locations, please visit the film’s website here.