Hallie Twomey wipes away tears as filmmakers and the Twomey family talk about “Scattering CJ” after the film’s premiere Saturday at the Camden Opera House as part of the Camden International Film Festival. From left to right: Connor Twomey, John Twomey, Hallie Twomey and filmmaker Andrea Kalin. Lindsay Tice/Sun Journal

CAMDEN — For a few minutes Saturday, the darkened Camden Opera House filled with the colorful light of hundreds of glow sticks held aloft by the audience. Each soft light was labeled with a single word: Hope.

On the movie screen, the documentary “Scattering CJ” was ending, displaying image after image of people who had spread C.J. Twomey’s ashes around the world. As Linkin Park’s “One More Light” played, a soundtrack to the final scenes, the screen transitioned to listing the 1,100 places those people — and many others — had taken C.J.’s ashes. The Grand Canyon. The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The Notre Dame Cathedral in France. Antarctica. Fiji. Space.

The crowd rose, cheering and applauding. It would be the first of three standing ovations for the movie’s world premiere.

“It was beyond what I could have imagined,” said filmmaker Andrea Kalin. “Just the quietness and attention of the crowd. That last moment with ‘One More Light,’ I got the sense that we were all in this together.”

Film poster for “Scattering CJ.” Photo courtesy Spark Media

The hourlong documentary tells the story of Scattering CJ, an effort started by Auburn mom Hallie Twomey after the 2010 suicide of her son, C.J.

It was November 2013 when Twomey, heavily weighted by guilt and grief, posted a short plea on Facebook: Would anyone out there be willing to help spread her son’s ashes?

C.J. was 20 when he died. He’d been an active, outgoing young man, and his mother wanted him to have the adventure he’d always dreamed of but never got. She also desperately wanted him to know she would always love him and that she was sorry — sorry they had argued before he died, sorry she had not said “I love you,” sorry she did not realize he was in such pain.

“YOU MUST AGREE TO SAY THAT,” Twomey had written on her Facebook page to prospective volunteers. “Because I am, and I need him to hear it as the last thing he hears before he takes off.”

Twomey’s story first appeared in the Sun Journal soon after her Facebook post. Other news outlets, including The Associated Press and CNN, quickly followed. The story went national. Then international.

Twomey had hoped a couple of hundred people might offer to help scatter her son’s ashes. More than 22,000 have since volunteered.

The story caught the attention of David Lobatto, a British screenwriter. He took it to Kalin, a documentary filmmaker. They agreed to co-produce a documentary on the Twomey family, Scattering CJ and the lives the effort has touched.

It took the co-producers, Kalin’s Spark Media and a small, dedicated team four years to make the film.

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at the Camden Opera House for the world premiere during the Camden International Film Festival. The 500-seat opera house was nearly full with people from Maine, from out of state, from out of the country. Some knew very little about Scattering CJ. Others had watched it unfold firsthand.

“It’s going to be a very emotional day,” said Kristy Norcross, a friend of the Twomey family.

C.J. Twomey was an active, outgoing young man who craved adventure. Photo courtesy Twomey family and Spark Media

The documentary opened with family videos of C.J. as a chubby baby, a gabby toddler, an excited preschooler. It showed him as a young adult, as outgoing and chatty as he was as a youngster. Then it switched to C.J.’s father crying.

“When I look back to that day (of his suicide), it just went so fast,” John Twomey said to the camera. “I was very surprised that he escalated so quickly and got so upset.”

The film showed the family’s grief, then the Facebook plea. It showed the outpouring of support and offers of help.

And it showed how Scattering CJ did more than spread a young man’s ashes. It gave people an opening to talk about suicide.

“Scattering CJ has opened a door,” Hallie Twomey said to the camera. “So many people are looking to have a supportive community. The page itself has taken on a life of its own. There are people now that are reaching out and helping each other.”

It’s a supportive community that the filmmakers wanted to join, not just to show. The documentary listed multiple crisis lines and groups for people considering suicide. At the premiere Saturday, mental health professionals stood in the back of the room and offered help to anyone who needed it. Afterward, Spark Media and the American Association of Suicidology presented a Mental Health Awareness Boot Camp.

And outside, just across the street from the opera house, Gardiner mother Linda Lajoie set up her Silhouette Project, an exhibit to bring awareness to veteran suicide.

The film itself was dedicated to “persons with mental illness and the people who love them.”

After the documentary ended — and the crowd gave three standing ovations — Twomey reflected on the film and its long-awaited premiere.

“I thought it was beautiful,” she said. “I don’t know what I went in expecting, but this felt like the absolute right place to do this for the first time. And I’m not spiritual, but I felt love in there. It’s amazing. I’m so touched.”

 

 

 


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