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by Susan Royal

Twenty-four-year-old writer/director/actor Monty Lepica was once a troubled teen trying to cope with the death of his father. A former straight A student, he descended into a world of drugs, alcohol and violence. His mother, at a loss as to how to deal with him,  hired a private company to forcibly kidnap and confine him at a corrupt psychiatric lockdown facility for teenagers.

His harrowing experiences at Brightway Adolescent Hospital in St. George, Utah provided the inspiration for his first film, Self Medicated, winner of 39 international film awards, including the PRISM Award for accurate depiction of drug, alcohol and tobacco use in film. Lapica wrote, directed and stars in the film with Diane Venora (Heat, The Insider) who plays the mother. He was interviewed by Inside Film on the day of his film opening across the country in 15 cities.

Self Medicated  has received so many awards, many of them from film festivals. Did you spend a lot of time on the festival circuit?

Yes. We spent about a year and a half on the festival circuit, on the advice of a good friend of mine. Initially we premiered the film at CineVegas and when it wasn’t picked up by any distributors I was really discouraged. A friend of mine said, “You know, why don’t you get the most out of the experience and take it to festivals, show it to audiences and just enjoy the film that you made.”  So we did that and we got really lucky and the film started winning awards, maybe not every one the most prestigious, but before I knew it we had 39 awards. I guess it led some distributors to think there must be something to this film and that led to being distributed by THINKFilm.

You wrote, directed, co-produced and starred in Self Medicated.  Which was the most difficult job?

I think writing is the backbone of every movie and it definitely requires the most skill.

As a first-time film director, were you at all intimidated working with such veteran actors?

I was intimidated about working with Diane, especially, because she has worked with so many of my heroes. Early on I had concerns, but she really alleviated them and any butterflies I may have had. It was beneficial to me to have such veteran actors deliver the words I had written and I think they improved on my script just by virtue of their performances.

Since you’ve been out on the festival circuit with the film, have people been telling you their horror stories about teen psychiatric facilities like Brightway?

Oh, yeah, so many people. I had no idea how many people have either been in such an institution or have friends or family members who have been sent away to one of these places.  A lot of people approached me after seeing the film and said things such as, “My brother went to one of these and I thought it was such an accurate depiction of what he went through.”  So many people can relate to it.  I had no idea this sort of treatment was so pervasive throughout the U.S. until I got this feedback.

You probably heard about a lot of abuse. How did you decide what level of brutality would work in the film or did you consider that?

That was certainly a conscious decision. I felt so much personal animosity stemming from my experience in the facility that I was afraid I would show these people as monsters.  I thought the film would hopefully be more effective if I showed that they were good-intentioned people whose approach was flawed and their motives – certainly those of the owners and operators of the company – were questionable. They were operating it as a business rather than as a facility to help teens.

There are a whole lot of troubled teenagers out there with parents at a loss as to what to do with them.

What would you say to those parents if you knew they were about to have their child carted off to one of these places?

I would strongly argue against sending their teen to one of these programs because it’s only going to exacerbate their feelings of anger and further damage the relationship between parent and child.  It’s important to do the opposite: to attempt to nurture the bond with their child and have more communication.  It’s especially important to express to the child that they are loved and supported.  Sending them away, even though done in an attempt to help them, well, a young person has a hard time understanding that and interprets it as “my parents must not love me or they couldn’t so easily ship me away to people who are abusing me here.”  It can certainly make a bad problem worse.

What finally brought Brightway down?

A number of complaints led to the government conducting a formal investigation which turned up evidence of abuse – emotional abuse, and in some cases physical abuse, and they were closed down.

What effects would you hope your film creates?

I didn’t make it with that in mind. I just wanted to make an entertaining movie, and hopefully a movie that was emotionally affecting. I never imagined that it could spur change in anyone or lead to, as some people have expressed, healing in some way. To hear that from people and to see the reactions of people after the screenings who come up to me and tell me how they were touched by the film, or actually ask my advice about their teenagers because they’re living through something very similar, well, I feel a lot of responsibility. But I also feel pretty blessed to have the opportunity to impact any lives like that, especially young people’s, because I spent so much of my youth being a negative influence on so many of my peers that it feels good to do something that people can take something positive from.

In Los Angeles, Self Medicated is playing at the Santa Monica Laemmle 4-Plex
Visiti the official website of the film:

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