A new documentary, How to Touch a Hot Stove, examines mental illness and “what we as a society can do to combat its stigma,” according to its trailer—just narrated in a BMCC sound lab by actor John Turturro.
BMCC alum Sheryll Franko directed the film, and its co-creators are Alice Lombardo Maher, a psychiatrist who founded the organization Changing Our Consciousness, and Lois Oppenheim, Chair of Modern Languages and Literatures at Montclair State University.
Maher and Oppenheim were looking for a filmmaker and director to partner with, when they came across Franko’s first documentary—which she made at BMCC—about one person’s struggle with bipolar disorder.
“So much has transpired over the past two and a half years, as a result of my honors project,” says Franko. “Crazy Enough to Care, the short film I created, went on to win a 2009 Voice Award, as well a number of international awards. I also ended up touring Western Europe with Drew Horn, the film’s subject, and it was aired on a BBC affiliate in the Netherlands.”
John Turturro lends a voice
Brooklyn-born actor John Turturro, known for his roles in over 60 films including Barton Fink, Quiz Show and The Big Lebowski narrated the film, and donated his time to record its trailer in BMCC's Media Center.
Franko directed his reading, and the session’s sound engineer was Video Arts and Technology major, Nawa Kamate. Was she nervous, working with a famous actor?
“I felt that a lot of people had trust in me,” said Kamate, adding that through class projects, she'd “been practicing skills like audio replacement, which requires you to experiment with the major features of Pro Tools 8, sound editing software.”
She thanks her professor, Laura Starecheski, “who really equipped me to move on to the next step—the real world,” as well as BMCC Media Center Director John Gallagher, “who prepared me mentally, to know how to carry myself in a professional setting.”
Lonely states turn to smiles
Sheryll Franko met Drew Horn, who inspired her first movie, on the sidewalk, when he jumped in front of her with a hoola hoop and declared, “We’re collecting smiles!”
Horn created the Turn a Frown Around Foundation, visiting people “who don’t have a friend in the world,” in nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals.
Franko’s movie about him, Crazy Enough to Care evolved from her BMCC research paper, “The Lonely States of America,” completed with guidance from her Honors advisor, Assistant Professor Rose M. Kim of the Social Sciences and Human Services department. Working on the paper “gave substance to her film,” says Kim.
John Gallagher was another mentor. "I provided technical support," he says, “how to use Avid media composer and other software, hand-held video cameras, light kits—she was a quick learner.”
With these new tools, Franko’s film goals emerged. “I had no idea what direction I was taking,” she says, “and having access to those resources changed my life.”
Her experience in the Media Center reflects its commitment to student work. “Every BMCC student can actually graduate with a pretty good reel that looks comparable to anything coming out of the private colleges,” says Gallagher.
“Our editing lab was the only HD studio in CUNY till Lehman College got one last year," he says, "and we have the students working on Avid, because it prepares them to work in broadcast.”
A tradition of mentoring
How to Touch a Hot Stove features Drew Horn, as well as Temple Grandin (a leader in the autism advocacy movement), former First Lady Rosalyn Carter, Susanna Kaysen (author of Girl, Interrupted), Oliver Sacks, Glenn Close and other luminaries. As its filmmaker and director, Franko is a role model for aspiring film professionals, such as VAT major Kamate.
“It was an honor to take part in something more professional and formal,” Kamate said of the opportunity to tape John Turturro’s voice over for the film’s trailer.
“Whether I'm in front of the camera, or working behind the scenes—post production, sound designing and engineering—I want to thrive in displaying my creativity and aesthetics from every angle.”
“We share a lot in common, in terms of having taught ourselves most of what we know, with regard to sound and film,” says Franko, who founded Falling Awake Productions, which is part of the film's team. “I’m very excited about working with her in the future, through my company.”