Playing a part in addressing impact of suicide

Film follows mourners as they make their way to the funeral of Davin, the film’s eponymous absent central character, as they react to the news of his suicide

Graham Jones:  “[Suicide] has always been something that’s been there just under the surface”. Photograph: Gabriel Noonan

Graham Jones: “[Suicide] has always been something that’s been there just under the surface”. Photograph: Gabriel Noonan

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 01:00

In the days before actor and comedian Robin Williams died, an Irish film by writer/director Graham Jones, about the impact of suicide, was made available free online.

The film follows groups and individual mourners as they make their way to the funeral of Davin, the film’s eponymous absent central character, as they react to the news of his suicide, share their feelings and memories and try to make sense of his death.

The film – which used an animation technique called rotoscoping to transform the real-life footage into a black- and-white animation – was released ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day 2014 on September 10th, and is Jones’s third feature-length film on the issue of suicide.

Although the Dún Laoghaire-based director and father of three says he isn’t sure why he has returned to the subject so often, he, like so many people in Ireland, has been affected by suicide, having experienced it “both within and also outside the family”: friends of friends have taken their own lives.

“It’s always been something that’s been there just under the surface,” he says.

He relays the story of two friends, one of who acted in the film, who had a discussion one night about how many people they knew, either directly or indirectly, who had taken their own lives in their rural community.

“The figure they came to was 26,” Jones said. “That’s an epidemic.”

The film looks at the suicide through the perspectives of the mourners who have different connections to Davin and the positions they take.

Some of these are deliberately difficult: “What he has done is truly selfish, honestly,” a character who didn’t know Davin says as she drives one of the mourners to the ceremony.

Although it is a stance that Jones does not condone, the fictional character’s viewpoint is so common that he wished to confront it: “Her character is giving mouth to that awful attitude that still exists and is still kind of socially acceptable.

“That the person who has taken their own life is in some way selfish is, to me, a preposterous idea.

“I just don’t think that selfishness enters into it at all and I think that trying to make the connection between the act of suicide and some kind of selfishness or lack thereof is so much on the wrong road it’s difficult really even to respond to it; it’s just not the answer.”

While suicide has affected the lives of so many Irish people, “sometimes I really don’t think we are in touch with the reality of it at all”, says the 40-year-old director.

“Every time I hear about a new study or initiative or charity drive I feel a little bit relieved . . . and then almost immediately afterwards I feel a huge amount of fear that it won’t have that much impact and that maybe the impact it will have will be to make us feel that we are doing something.

“Sometimes that can be worse, I think, because people get to walk away.”

He says that the film was a way for the whole cast and crew – who all gave their time for no pay – to make their contribution to a national debate on suicide.

“I think that films and books and stories and anecdotal approaches . . . can connect with people more deeply. People can engage more because sometimes people find it really hard to connect to cold hard facts and statistics.

“Obviously there are a lot of people working really hard dealing with these issues, but we wanted to try to do something as well, to contribute as actors and writers and musicians. Because it does have to be part of the national conversation; it has to be part of a debate.”

Davin can be viewed online at grahamjones.ie

Those who may be feeling vulnerable or anyone concerned about someone else can contact organisations such as The Samaritans, who are available around the clock by phone at 116 123 in the Republic, at 08457 909090 in Northern Ireland or by email jo@samaritans. org.

Console’s helpline is also available 24/7, at 1800 247247.

The organisation also provides bereavement counselling to people dealing with grief following a suicide. More details at console.ie.