‘Walking Man’ Premiere Highlights a Journey of Much-Needed Mental Health Conversation

In today's post, we'll be talking mostly about a walking man, but first I feel we must pay tribute to the running man:



And lo, the running man begat the Roger Rabbit, and the middle school dance floor would never be the same. 


Sweet moves aside, it's time to turn our attention to the father-son filmmaking duo of Mark and Eric Norwine, who walked a total of 200 miles across Missouri to get people talking about mental health. Their documentary about the journey, Walking Man, premiered Monday evening at the St. Louis International Film Festival. 


The Norwine's walk was inspired chiefly by the Mark and Eric's own struggles with bipolar disorder, in addition to the news of three suicides within a seven-week period at a high school in St. Clair, Missouri.


“I had experienced a lot of mental health issues from probably the age of 18 until I was finally diagnosed at age 52 with bipolar disorder,” said Mark Norwine. “My actual thought was to walk across the state and help communities like St. Clair that don’t have the resources like we have in St. Louis and Kansas City.”


Throughout the early part of their journey, the team visited a number of small towns and gauged the impact of mental health issues in each location. Fifteen days into filming, they arrived at St. Clair High School where they were granted an audience with the student population.


“We’re speaking to the students in an assembly and it did not go well,” said Mark Norwine. “They did not want to hear what we had to say and the principal did not want me to talk about anything of any substance. We kind of came out of there going, ‘Wow. We just walked for 15 days, still have two more and we don’t know what we have’ as far as what we’re going to be able to do to help people and also what this documentary might look like.”


Eric Norwine, whose bipolar disorder has been successfully treated since his diagnosis at age 16, took a deeper look at what happened at St. Clair High School and came to a disturbing conclusion: “We kind of came out of St. Clair once the dust had settled and said this isn’t anybody’s fault. There are a lot of folks who don’t want to talk about it, and people that don’t have the resources. If you think about it, what’s the point of talking about something if you can’t afford to do anything about it?”


Together with their director, Josh Salzberg, the Norwines realized that the events of their St. Clair stop were, in fact, the most important of their entire trip. The most difficult aspect of opening up a conversation about mental illness can simply be that people aren't ready–or are frightened–to talk about it. With the premiere of Walking Man, the creative team hopes to open up even more lines of communication, especially in those smaller communities plagued by mental illness, suicide, and stigma.



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