'Wristcutters' prevention

Groups protest suicide-based ads

Fifteen suicide prevention groups are dead set against After Dark Films' proposed campaign for the comedy "Wristcutters: A Love Story," which is set to bill itself with signs showing people killing themselves.

After Dark Films co-owner Courtney Solomon said late Friday that while the film's promotion may feature images of people jumping off a bridge, electrocuting and hanging themselves, they would be displayed as traffic-style stop or yield signs with a barring-style circle and line over the illustrations, along with hearts to reference the film's romantic story line. He said the campaign may change before its mid-July rollout because of the outcry.

Solomon intends to offer screenings or DVDs of the film to concerned organizations in the next few weeks, then discuss the campaign with them and ask for their input. "The movie takes place in purgatory, and its message is that love is better than suicide," he said, adding that the film may even help prevent suicide. "Our job is to get people into the theater in a way that's accessible to them. There are many different ways to skin a cat. God forbid someone was considering committing suicide. This film may change their opinion."

It's just the latest controversy for After Dark, which last week removed billboards and taxi signage for "Captivity," after complaints over depictions of star Elisha Cuthbert being tortured and killed (HR 3/20).

After reading about the "Wristcutters" signage, the R-rated film's target audience of 17- to 30-year-olds, and Solomon's comment that he hopes the signs "don't cause too many accidents," (HR 3/8), a coalition of groups including the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America and the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA sent a letter to Solomon and Lionsgate CEO Jon Felthheimer on March 13 contending that the marketing campaign is overkill.

Lionsgate is After Dark's nonexclusive distribution partner. It will handle the film's home video distribution but is not involved in the theatrical rollout. Suicide Prevention Action Network executive director Jerry Reed said Felthheimer "very graciously" called to say Lionsgate was not involved in the ads, but Solomon has not yet responded to any of the organizations that signed the letter, which also include the American Association of Suicidology and Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Solomon said he'd been too busy to reply to the groups because he's been reshooting and editing-in the more violent scenes to "Captivity" to make it more appealing to the audience that turned "Saw" and "Hostel" into hits. He cited this additional workload as one factor in moving the "Wristcutters" campaign from April to mid-July before its Aug. 31 release in Los Angeles, New York and possibly other major markets.

"You don't see people making fun of other causes of death, but you see it with suicide and mental illness," suicide prevention foundation executive director Robert Gebbia said. AFSP's separate March 9 letter, written to Solomon and After Dark financier Allan Zeman, stated, "(We) know from more than 30 years of scientific research that media portrayals of suicide can be inadvertently harmful to vulnerable individuals, leading to what behavioral scientists call suicide contagion or 'copycat suicide.' Recent research confirms that young people in particular are vulnerable to this effect and can tragically act on depictions of suicide."

Both Reed and Gebbia said they hadn't seen the film and were not objecting to it but to the proposed campaign's impact on the public. "We don't want to censor work," said an ASFP spokesperson. The protests come on the heels of recent objections suicide prevention groups have raised over commercials from Washington Mutual, General Motors, Volkswagen and CareerBuilder that referred to suicide.

While the "Wristcutters" campaign has come under fire, Goran Dukic's dark comedy-romance has received acclaim since its 2006 Sundance Film Festival debut. It follows a group of people that have committed suicide (including stars Patrick Fugit and Shannyn Sossamon) as they take a road trip through purgatory. "Wristcutters" won best feature honors at the Gen Art Film Festival, earned a nomination for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You at the 2006 IFP Gotham Awards and noms for best first feature and best first screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards in February.

The film was also one of three films nominated for a 2006 Humanitas Sundance feature screenwriting award, for which Dukic received a plaque noting his "extraordinary contribution (to) entertainment that also enriches, probes the meaning of life and motivates love within the human family."