Life After You, inspired by the true story of a New Jersey family coping with the death of their 19 year-old son from a drug overdose, premiered on April 23 at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. The film was presented with two awards. Florencia Lozano won the Award for Best Lead Actress in a Feature Film, while Sarah T. Schwab won the Special Jury Remi Award for Best Directorial Debut for a Feature Film.
“I’m so completely honored to have been awarded the Special Jury Remi Award for First Feature Film,” Schwab said. “When you’re a true artist – strictly dedicated to unearthing and telling the truth – you’re not necessarily thinking about accolades. But when someone points to you and says, `I believe in your work…’ man, it’s just such a boost of (humble) confidence. I’m deeply thankful to the programmers at WorldFest-Houston for believing in this project. It’s a necessary story that needs to be told.”
“It was an honor to be awarded Best Actress at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival,” said Lozano. “I have Charlene Giannetti to thank for that, since she came to me with the opportunity to play Linda Lajterman in a film inspired by Linda’s cri de coeur Life After You: What Your Death from Drugs Leaves Behind. Our film is essentially grounded in Linda’s mission to wake people up–especially teenagers, who tend to consider themselves immortal–to the fact that due to the opioid crisis, heroin bought on the street is oftentimes laced with fentanyl which you can buy without knowing it and die after only trying it once. Life After You is a wake-up call, it’s a sort of modern day horror story in which a child overdoses and the family that’s left behind, never gets to wake up from their waking nightmare.”
Now in its 54th year, WorldFest-Houston is one of the oldest film festivals in the country. This year the festival received more than 5,000 film submissions and selected 36 feature films and documentaries. Besides the U.S., countries represented at the festival included Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Macao, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Screenings were held in the Cinemark Theatres located in Houston’s Memorial City.
A production of Cardinal Flix, Inc., Life After You was filmed in January 2020 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The shooting of the film was a massive undertaking, with 25 locations, including family homes, a funeral home, a supermarket, several stores, a courthouse, a hospital, and a high school. An exterior night shoot involved police cars, a coroner’s van, and an ambulance. A second evening shoot was staged at a local pond. The Lebanon community was extremely supportive and many volunteered to be extras in the film.
Danny Lajterman died on February 23, 2014, after ingesting heroin that was laced with fentanyl. His mother, Linda, dealing with the grief of losing her son, posted on Facebook to warn other parents about the dangers of using drugs. After she received an outpouring of comments, she wrote a book, Life After You: What Your Death from Drugs Leaves Behind. The film depicts what the Lajterman family went through after Danny’s death.
Fueled by an addiction to painkillers and heroin, virtually every community in the U.S. has been touched by drug deaths. One of the goals of Life After You’s producing team is to use the film to launch a much-needed dialogue about this epidemic that has claimed far too many lives. That initiative began in earnest after the April 23 screening when Schwab, Lozano, and Charlene Giannetti, a producer for the film, were joined by officials from Houston’s Health Department for a discussion with the theater audience. Dr. Clemelia Richardson, Bureau Chief, Human Services Division of the Houston Health Department, along with Leonard Kincaid, Executive Director of the Houston Recovery Center, and Richard Moke, a Well Advocate for individuals with opioid abuse challenges, fielded general questions about addiction, and then talked about what is happening in the Houston area. During the pandemic, Kincaid and Woke have been on the front lines, often being called upon to administer naloxone, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. Dr. Richardson said that Houston has received four grants to study the opioid/heroin epidemic.
“Your film tells a painful side of the addiction story that’s underrepresented in the general narrative and one that need to be told,” Kincaid said. “It was an honor to be invited and even more to be a part of the question and answer session.”
“I so agree with Leonard,” said Richardson. “It was an honor to be a part of this powerful accomplishment.”
In addition to WorldFest-Houston, Life After You has been accepted into the Sarasota Film Festival, being held from April 30 through May 9, and the Nice International Film Festival in France, May 31 through June 4. At the Nice festival, Life After You has received six nominations including Best Feature Film, Best Director (Schwab), Best Lead Actress (Lozano), Best Cinematography (Richard Sands), Best Supporting Actress (Kathryn Erbe), and Best Supporting Actor (Jake Ryan Lozano). The producers anticipate hearing back from other film festivals in the coming months. For festivals that are in-person, talk-backs, like the one in Houston, will be scheduled. For virtual festivals, online discussions are possible.
After a theatrical release, future plans include making the film available for private screenings for organizations and in schools.