A Journey of Healing and Redemption
About Face Synopsis

Diary Of A Film In The Making

Written by Mary

Spoiler alert – while the pathos and drama of About Face are intimately driven by the format of film, this diary of our filmmaking experience does include spoilers, including a description of the end of Gwen’s journey.

"Wishes and prayers are not a lot to spend $9,000 on...but we lucked out."

With the help of a retired cop in Indiana who tends dairy cows during the day and trolls the internet at night, Gwen got a lead that her mother had been spotted in Vermont. Finding her mother is the goal she felt was essential to her self-acceptance and her understanding of mental illness and its potential to manifest in her own genes. At this point Gwen was in jail, having been arrested in a drunken stupor while attacking a statue of the Virgin Mary.

We conducted some furious fundraising and, miraculously, we were able to swing four plane tickets to head east with no known verification – just intuition and prayer holding us up. Gwen asked permission to take this second trip to find that illusive woman known as her biological mother. Her Probation Officer dug in his heels and said “NO” because he deemed it as “one felon having contact with another” and hence a parole violation.

We begged and pleaded and offered a dozen safety plans. The probation officer did not grant her travel request until two hours before the plane took off. (Actually, he was out to lunch when a female co-worker took pity on Gwen and said, "Everyone needs to know their mother.")

We traveled all night and were jetlagged and totally fried after 14 hours in transit. My crew was begging for a hotel room, but an inner voice was pushing me. I convinced them to just go with me for two hours, to case things out.

The address we had in hand turned out to be in the wrong town.

So instead, we went to drug stores and liquor stores and a homeless shelter, looking for any sign of Gwen’s mother. Suddenly, things escalated at a pace that can’t be done justice by simple words. Luckily, it’s all on film! In a race to the finish, we literally ran with the camera, as Gwen finally caught up to her mother between her release from a mental hospital at noon that day and a 4:00 pm bus ticket out of town.

Amazingly we not only found her, but Gwen was gifted 36 hours to catch up, understand, forgive and ask a lifetime of questions. Gwen and her mother talked all night long.

This visit, entirely captured on film, was its own emotional ride to the finish. As we drove on icy roads in blizzard conditions in Northern Vermont, things got really intense. As we drove from one homeless shelter to the next, all at full capacity and with no hope for respite, Gwen’s mother’s meds began to wear off. With the wiper blades relentlessly swishing and beating a rhythmic pattern, she revealed to Gwen what had made her throw Gwen into the fire: the sound of drums.

Our college student PA was trembling behind the wheel. Gwen had her Bible open and silently prayed and wept as Nara, our wonderful camerawoman on this project, filmed away. We were sandwiched in the steamy car unable to breathe, for both the tightness of the space and the unbelievable moment we are capturing. Through it all, Gwen maintained the grace she had continuously shown throughout this entire journey.

Gwen’s transformation at the end of About Face and throughout her five-year adventure can only be adequately told on film. Her final realization that her mother is a paranoid schizophrenic who inspires little empathy was a transformative moment of growth and maturity for Gwen.

With these answers, she was finally ready to let her mother get on that bus forever. Which Gwen’s mother did, without so much as a goodbye and only after plucking the last twenty bucks out of Gwen’s hand.

We flew home completely high on life, knowing we had the film’s climax in the can, that our subject had been tossed and churned but had ultimately landed on her feet and that we had been able to capture the most frank and lucid portrayal of a person with mental illness we could have hoped for.

We had never been so happy to be broke.