Not all stories of suicide need to be scary and dark, say filmmakers Florian Halbedl and Joshua Ferguson, who prefer to focus on hope and survival in their award-winning film Whispers of Life.
The 10-minute short tells the story of Tom, a gay teen who encounters a stranger on a park bench following an interaction with a homophobic bully. Encouraging the young man to use his imagination, the stranger helps Tom enter a beautiful and surreal world where he comes to realize the impact his suicide would have on those around him.
“We wanted parts of the film to reflect the power of imagination in relation to survival,” explains Ferguson, who identifies as transgender and prefers the pronoun “they.”
Though Ferguson says Whispers of Life is not autobiographical, it was inspired by their own experiences of being bullied in high school.
“I try not to let my own story detract from the experience of others watching the movie, though,” they say. “We’re all survivors of suicide in some way.”
“Joshua has gone through hell with bullying, and while some of the film came out of Joshua’s experiences, it also came from what was happening in the news with the suicides of queer youth,” says Halbedl, Ferguson’s husband, during a break from the set of a feature film being shot in Vancouver.
In shifting between the real world and the young man’s imagination, the filmmakers say they’re trying to reinforce the idea that one doesn’t always have to look externally for answers.
“It’s important sometimes to find the magic within yourself, to use your imagination to find your place in the world,” Halbedl says.
The stranger and his willingness to intervene underline the importance of paying attention to the people around us, rather than simply walking by. “We wanted to bring in someone who is willing to play an active role in helping. A lot of times with queer youth, thoughts of suicide or even the act could be prevented if they had the right support system,” Halbedl says.
Five years in the making, the Vancouver-shot film was completed last April with help from industry heavyweights such as Kevin Struckman and Mark Meloche, who created the film’s stunning visual effects and whose resumés include the locally shot Once Upon a Time and Supernatural television series.
Whispers of Life is now touring the international film-festival circuit and most recently won the Audience Award for Best Short at the 2014 Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival in Kingston, Ontario.
In handing the award to Halbedl and Ferguson, the festival’s executive director, Matt Salton, called the film “a must-see for queer youth and those who work with LGBTQ youth, as it is an empowering testament to the value of young lives in turmoil.”
Whispers of Life will screen at the Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth in Vancouver this April. Visit r2rfestival.org for information. Halbedl and Ferguson will both be in attendance.