When news broke that someone in Hollywood was already looking to capitalize on the Newtown shooting with a film less than two months after the tragic events, people were predictably outraged. But one of the project's backers, Carole Dean, says she has no reservations — "none whatsoever" — about supporting the project.
That may be because "the Newtown film," as Illness is being called, is not a film about the Newtown shooting at all — just a film set in a world in which the Newtown shooting has happened. Illness is described by the film's producer as "a story about the tragic fate of Benjamin, a 13-year-old boy with a terrible mental illness, and the ever-growing fear of his parents after they learn about the shooting in Newtown in December 2012."
Residents of Ridgefield, Connecticut, became enraged when writer/director Jonathan Bucari told a local news station that he was interested in filming in their town because of its physical similarities to Newtown, Connecticut (about 20 miles away).
Bucari told a reporter from News 12 Connecticut on Sunday that "he selected Ridgefield as the location for his new movie about the Newtown shooting because it has the same look and feel as Newtown, and he didn't want to invade Newtown so soon after the tragedy." (The video footage of News 12's interview with Bucari no longer appears to be working.)
Ridgefield's First Selectman Rudy Marconi told WVIT-TV that his office has received dozens of calls protesting the film, and he said he would do anything in his power to stop it from going forward.
That hasn't slowed down the production, however. Bucari and Illness producer Carina Rush are crowdsourcing funding for the film through the website IndieGoGo. The film has also received fiscal sponsorship from the Oxnard, California-based nonprofit From the Heart Productions, described as "a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to funding films that are unique and make a contribution to society." (Receiving fiscal sponsorship of a nonprofit allows donations to the film to be classified as tax-deductible.)
Reached by phone, founder Carole Dean explained her organization's rationale for partnering with Illness: "We reviewed their materials and decided that they have a very good idea for a film," Dean said, adding that Illness is concerned with understanding. "What is mental illness, and our are kids safe from it? How do you identify it?"
The film's IndieGoGo pledge page certainly seems to reinforce Dean's concept of Illness rather than the notion that the film intends to exploit the Newtown tragedy.
Bucari's messages to the film's IndieGoGo donors are peppered with inspirational quotes, including one by peace activist Mahatma Gandhi, and, as Rush writes on the page, "All funds and prizes won through Festivals will be used for the formation of a Foundation to help the many families with children struggling with mental illness."
According to Bucari's IMDB page, he grew up in France and studied filmmaking there before moving to New York. The single completed credit to Bucari's name is a TV movie called The Sacrificial Lamb, but it is unclear when, if ever, it aired.
Dean said that Bucari and Rush "are making a film on a small budget using friends and family to produce it." She added that that the controversy has not given her or her organization any reservations about supporting the film. "None whatsoever," she said.
Both Bucari and Rush declined to comment for this piece. The Facebook page for Illness and Bucari's personal Twitter account have both been deactivated since the firestorm began. The IndieGoGo page is still active, however. Below are examples of the messages Bucari sent to the project's donors.