I can vividly picture what Solstice is like in Albury, Australia, as director Helen Newman describes it. On the coldest, darkest, longest night of the year, a community of people gathers together huddled over fires and under lights. It is a community called Survivors of Suicide and Friends, who gather together to provide solace and comfort to each other. Part of the symbolism of the Solstice is to imagine the way that mental illness can plunge you into what seems like never-ending darkness—and how after the Solstice, the days eventually become longer and lighter again.
Annette and Stuart Baker created the community and the event partially to help cope with the suicide loss of their daughter Mary, and to provide an outlet for others who shared suicide loss. Suicide grief, explained Newman in her interview, is a layered, complex kind of grief. Not only may you be feeling sadness and loss, you may also be feeling anger and questioning yourself or playing the “what-ifs” in your head. A significant part of the problem which the Bakers hoped to address was the silence and shame surrounding suicide loss. It can be very difficult to discuss suicide because of the stigma surrounding it and the unique sense of pain it brings.
Annette and Stuart Baker knew they had to make a decision after Mary’s death. They chose to be open about her suicide, and dealing with the attendant difficulties, they decided to help others who coped with suicide loss. The film documents their journey and how they touched a chord in many community members who also wanted to open up about their own experiences and share their grief—so much so that the Bakers often served as referrals in a broken mental health system. The film also touches upon some other suicide loss survivors in this community, the effect of modern disasters such as the pandemic and wildfires on mental health, and the Solstice event which now draws thousands via livestreaming.
Newman spent years making this documentary. It was very important to her to document the voices of the community and the survivors. It is an in-depth look at how a drop of water can build into an ocean of a movement, especially when there is a need to talk about a topic that is usually shrouded in silence.
The Solstice documentary is screening in the virtual festival until November 6th: https://watch.eventive.org/mentalfilmness2022/play/6340d76aa798dd008de49e8d
You can watch an interview with Helen Newman, the director of Solstice, here: https://mentalfilmness2022.eventive.org/eventive.org/mentalfilmness2022interivews
The Solstice event is also available for livestreaming now here: https://survivorsofsuicide.org.au/wintersolstice/