Music producer, DJ, and director Sam Spiegel has a story to tell.
In his new short film, Heaven, out now on YouTube, he tackles mental health, specifically suicide prevention, through one woman’s story. In the film, we are introduced to dancer Nevaeh Meraz, who chronicles her experience at a mental care facility. In a place where everything is routine, she is taken out of her ordinary day when she feels the power of music during a dance class. That song is Spiegel’s own “Don’t Give Up” featuring Sia, Vic Mensa and Busta Rhymes.
After hearing Meraz’s story, Spiegel, who lost a friend to suicide a year ago and has gone through his own struggle with depression, was moved to bring it to the world. “She has fought through so much hardship and adversity, but her passion for her art has been her saving grace. It’s carried her through it all,” he told GRAMMY.com via email.
Ultimately, Spiegel wants the project to “give people struggling with mental health and particularly suicidal ideation some form of hope,” he said.
He spoke to GRAMMY.com via email more about how Meraz’s story touched him, his partnership with mental health services provider Didi Hirsch, and how making a film during the pandemic brought him closer to the project’s crew.
What inspired you to make this film?
[When] I met Nevaeh Meraz, her story was so powerful and moving. She has fought through so much hardship and adversity, but her passion for her art has been her saving grace. It’s carried her through it all. I identified with that, having suffered through a depression of my own and have found creativity to be my beacon of light in my darkest moments.
Did this project help you cope with your loss? If so, how?
For me, the project was purely a joyous expression. I loved every second of it. I just love filmmaking and the people on this project were all so stoked to be a part of it. It had a really beautiful spirit behind it. I do think that it was really cathartic and perhaps even therapeutic for Nevaeh, having lived this in her real life and it being a moment of intense trauma. I think that she felt revisiting it in this very safe and positive way seems to have been a blessing.
“Don’t Give Up” features artists who have been open about their mental health struggles. Was that meaningful to you?
I really connected the pain and strength in the song to Nevaeh’s story. I think that all of the featured artists on here could identify with this film, which is great.
A pandemic can be stressful and worsen mental health conditions (CDC). Is releasing the film now especially important to you?
For me, making the film and being connected to all of the artists that it takes to put a film like this together was really special during this time. It was so hard figuring out how to shoot this during the times of COVID, making sure everyone could remain safe and comfortable. We were originally going to be shooting in March and it ended up taking us seven months to figure it out! Insane! Being on set with everyone and feel how happy people were to be around each other making something they believed in made the wait worthwhile.
You are partnering with Didi Hirsch to raise funds. What made you want to partner with them specifically?
I’m hoping that the film can give people struggling with mental health and particularly suicidal ideation some form of hope. I lost a good friend to suicide a year ago. The loss made me feel more connected to Nevaeh when she told me her story. My hope is that her story can affect others the way it has affected me. Additionally, someone close to me lost their partner to suicide last year and she led us to Didi Hirsch, an agency that she had found impressive and helpful when she discovered them through her loss.
When working on finding a platform to show your film on, was accessibility a priority?
I’m a big fan of inclusion. I prefer [that] all of my creations are.
What do you hope people get out of the film?
More than anything, I want people to be moved by this film, and inspired by Nevaeh’s story and her power.