For Jay Silverman, it was a wake-up call.
Five years ago, the director learned that his daughter was failing classes and self-medicating because of a sexual trauma. He didn’t know where to turn for help, but after he spoke to an educational consultant who referred them to a treatment center, his daughter was on her way to recovery.
Silverman wanted to share with others that the vulnerable can find strength to overcome challenges, and to do so, he produced and directed “Girl on the Edge,” which will premiere Monday at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
“It’s an inspiring story for a child overcoming post-traumatic stress with a positive ending,” said Silverman, who recently directed a behind-the-scenes TV documentary on Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” for the Weinstein Company. “It was a labor of love based on a parent who had an epiphany that this exists.”
The film, which Silverman based on his family’s experiences, depicts the journey of a 15-year-old who is victimized by an online predator. She resorts to self-destructive behavior, and her family sends her to a fictionalized residential treatment center called Maheo Academy, which uses equine therapy to empower troubled girls. An eclectic group of mentors and peers and a bond with a horse help her come to terms with her past and face her uncertain future.
To learn more about mental health and social stigmas about therapy, Silverman and the filmmaking crew also researched residental treatment centers around the country. “Girl on the Edge” stars Taylor Spreitler of “Melissa & Joey,” who joins a cast including Gil Bellows of “The Shawshank Redemption,” Mackenzie Phillips of “American Graffiti” and “One Day at a Time,” and Elizabeth Pena, who died in October.
Filming took place in early 2014 at various locations around Los Angeles and Moab, Utah. Silverman is currently taking the film to festivals in the United States and abroad. The film has won the Grand Jury Award for Best Feature at the Cinema at the Edge Film Festival, as well as Best Narrative Feature and the Audience Award at the San Luis Obispo Film Festival.
After the film was presented before the National Assn. of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, Silverman was invited to speak before Congress in June to discuss making facilities such as Maheo more accessible to the public.
“Being that it’s based on a true story, you have a responsibility in telling it right and making sure that you give justice to the girl,” Spreitler said. “It’s just very exciting for us to share the story, and it’s a huge honor to be at the festival.”
Silverman also was inspired by a drama series he co-created and executive-produced for A&E. “The Cleaner,” starring Benjamin Bratt, was about a man saving others from addiction by any means possible. The show was inspired by the true experiences of an extreme interventionist.
“There are many people living with trauma who can’t address it,” Silverman said. “I wanted to make a statement, and it’s fulfilling to know people are seeing the film. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”
If You Go
What: “Girl on the Edge”
Where: Island Cinema, 999 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach
When: 5 p.m. Monday
Information: (949) 253-2880 or newportbeachfilmfest.com