Home Entertainment Montclair State Students Are Moved as “Life with Layla” Sheds a New Light on the Opioid Epidemic

Montclair State Students Are Moved as “Life with Layla” Sheds a New Light on the Opioid Epidemic

by Sam Nungesser

Students flooded into the School of Communication and Media as Montclair Film Festival’s award-winning movie “Life with Layla” held a special screening in Presentation Hall on Wednesday, Sep. 25.

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Layla gets on the bus for her first day of school.
Photo courtesy of Ken Spooner

Through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl, Layla, audience members were educated on the opioid epidemic that directly affected a Sussex County family and ultimately changed their lives forever.

After the passing of Layla’s aunt due to a heroin overdose, Layla and her mother commit their efforts to helping another family member overcome his own war with the addiction and assist him on his road to recovery.

“Seeing how frank and mature Layla was with her family was a reminder to me about how children have the power to learn and grow so fast,” Daniel Currie, a senior television and digital media major, said. “After having seen the film, I can safely say that my expectations were not only met, but exceeded in unexpected ways.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid related deaths have been on the rise since the 90s, with the first wave hooking people onto prescription drugs. Heroin related deaths became increasingly acknowledged during the second wave in 2010. Flash forward to 2013, and more and more people have begun taking synthetic opioids, most infamously including fentanyl, resulting in innumerable fatalities. In 2017 alone, 70,237 fatal drug overdoses took place.

Steve McCarthy, a Montclair State University professor who also served as a producer on “Life with Layla” discussed why the film is so important.

“It’s important to shine a light on a problem like this and tell one very personal story about one family,” McCarthy said. “It’s our job as journalists and filmmakers to shine this light and hope it will lead to understanding and action.”

From beginning to end, Layla and her family’s story was incredibly engaging as it primarily focused on the idea that while addiction is a disease, there is humanity that lies underneath all of it, rather than mere statistics. The directors did a remarkable job of showcasing the difficult truths that circle through an addict’s mind, along with those closest to him/her.

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Mike Mee (left), Steve McCarthy (center) and Ken Spooner (right) at the 2019 Montclair Film Festival.
Photo courtesy of Ken Spooner.

McCarthy had nothing but praise for his former students and directors of the film, Ken Spooner and Mike Mee, who spent nearly four years in production. They mentioned that they took hundreds of hours of footage in their near two years of filming, which was cut to a little over an hour in the final product.

“It’s their first independent feature film and it shows that they care about such an important issue and have the work ethic to complete such a complicated project,” McCarthy said. “They are going places, keep your eye on them.”

Following the screening was a Q&A with the filmmakers as well as Layla’s mother. She spoke on her ability to be extremely candid with her young daughter about drugs and addiction in order to build a strong trust system, seeing as Layla will grow up in a time where opioid use is a very relevant topic, particularly in her own family.

Sam Bailey, a sophomore television and digital media major, stated that she enjoyed how it was laced with moments of humor at times and with moments of horror at others. Bailey also enjoyed that it focused less on the aspect of how drugs affect the user and more on how it affects the people around them.

“The movie was very eye-opening and very candid about the harsh realities of opioid use,” Bailey said. “I thought it shed light on a topic that is very easily misinterpreted and showed the other side to drug addiction.”

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Layla spends time on the beach with her family amidst bringing her uncle back to New Jersey.
Photo courtesy of Ken Spooner

The room filled with an expected applause as the closing credits faded out. “Life with Layla” is nothing short of an incredible film telling an inspirational story. While it taught a hands-on lesson of the effects of drugs, looking through Layla’s eyes let sunshine in through gray clouds and exemplified that it is never too late to find help or trust those around you in doing so.


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