BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Ozone Park’s Vincent Sabella has utilized his filmmaking capabilities to not only address the various health-related challenges he has faced, but also to raise awareness.
Sabella, 36, said that since he grew up in one of Queens’ more suburban areas, he realized at a young age that he needed more excitement in his life. A love of art drew Sabella—at the time 18 years old—to SoHo, where he attempted to create buzz for his art. But Sabella eventually gravitated toward Los Angeles, where his paintings were featured in a number of art galleries.
“I love where I grew up and come from, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted,” said Sabella. “I just wanted to get out there and be something.”
Sabella—who has loved art from a young age—used his talents to tell stories on canvas. His art career consisted of four collections that comprised nearly 60 paintings, many of which have been displayed in galleries in Los Angeles.
Sabella then decided to dive into filmmaking, creating his first movie—Note, which focuses on a teenage boy who suffers from undiagnosed schizophrenia and decides to commit suicide while his mother is on a date. However, before the boy kills himself, he leaves behind a video diary on how to write the perfect suicide note. Sabella—who has also battled schizophrenia (at one point, undiagnosed) and has also struggled with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder—based Note on a suicide attempt he himself made, and the letter the character writes to his mother is the exact suicide note Sabella composed.
“From very early on, I was told to write what I know, so that’s what I do,” said Sabella.
In March 2013, Sabella’s art career came to an end when he was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma, which he defeated in five months. Since Sabella believed that he may have caught the disease from paint fumes, he chose to put away his paint brushes and focus solely on filmmaking.
Sabella’s second short film was Anonymous, which also drew from his own experiences. The film is about a young man born and raised in a crack house. While Sabella did not face such an upbringing, he had a good friend who was addicted to heroin—and this resulted in Sabella’s being exposed to the inside of a crack house.
Elizabeth Blue, Sabella’s first feature film—which will open in select theaters on Sept. 22—is based on a difficult time in the director’s life when all of his medications failed. The main character, Elizabeth, takes the same medications that Sabella took, hears what he used to hear and goes through the same journey that he undertook during that time in his life.
Sabella said that he chose to make the film for the same reason he created his other movies—to raise awareness and discuss topics that many people are afraid to confront.
“We need to raise awareness about mental illness,” said Sabella. “People keep mental illness hidden in the closet and treat it like a dirty little secret.”
Sabella said that although bipolar disorder and depression are common afflictions, he believes that people rarely discuss schizophrenia.
“Not many people know that there are those battling schizophrenia who can take medication and live perfectly normal lives,” said Sabella.
Sabella also incorporated a love story into the film.
“This film is for everyone going through something or someone who knows someone who is going through something, whether it be cancer or any other illness. I know there is someone out there who will relate,” said Sabella.
Elizabeth Blue was screened earlier this year in Washington, D.C., during a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) conference, where he said he received incredible feedback:
“After the film, someone came up to me and said it was ‘so beautifully disturbing’ and I just love that.”
Sabella said that some people have come forward to share their own stories after having seen the film. He added that he is overwhelmed that his film will screen in approximately 20 cities, and excited to visit New York City next week to accompany his family, who will watch the film.