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First Time Filmmaker Jono Oliver Strikes a Chord

Home posterFirst-time filmmaker Jono Oliver never dreamed that his work would wind up winning accolades from organizations across the country — but his touching and beautifully rendered Home drama has been doing just that. The story of a man recovering from mental illness (Gbenga Akinnagbe), whose goal is to leave his group home, get his own apartment and reconnect with his son, “Home” has been nominated for a SAMSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) and an Entertainment Industries Council Prism Award. It was recognized by the New York Metro branch of NAMI (The National Alliance of Mental Illness). And Oliver found himself nominated — along with the directors of “12 Years a Slave,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “The Best Man Holiday” — for an NAACP Image Award for directing.

“It wasn’t a goal to be acknowledged like this. The goal was to make an entertaining film,” says Oliver, who has a life-long awareness of the challenges of mentally ill people through his social worker parents. “I’ve always had the idea of doing a story that took place in that world,” he says. Oliver notes that it was of paramount importance to him to portray the challenges of mental illness truthfully, and never to allow the film’s light moments to veer into mockery. He enlisted the help of technical consultants including a psychiatric nurse to ensure verisimilitude.

“I’m glad didn’t screw that up,” says the filmmaker, who is a First Assistant Director on “Blue Bloods” when he’s not busy with his labor of love. “It’s unfortunate that most of the time you see people with mental illness in film, they’re either a joke or a psycho killer. There’s not a lot of in-between. And oftentimes in the media’s portrayals, you see headlines where they’re made into monsters.”

Oliver cites statistics that claim one in four Americans is dealing with some form of mental health issue, “millions upon millions of people. There are a lot of mental health organizations whose main goal is combating the stigma that surrounds mental illness — a stigma that leads to people being discriminated against when it comes to housing or jobs. There’s a preconception that these people are violent; they’re much more likely to become a victim of violent crime. There are a lot of statistics, a lot of knowledge and education people need. What’s been really cool about this film is that it’s opened up a dialogue on mental illness,” he says.

Pitching a “small story” with no guns or explosions wasn’t easy, he admits. Along the movie’s two-year journey to production, Oliver put his project on Kickstarter, where friends and family contributed 10 per cent of the budget. His “Blue Bloods” friends not only contributed monetarily, but gave him equipment to use and made it possible for Oliver to use rehearsal and office space when the show was on hiatus.

The film had a week-long theatrical release late last year. It will become available to the mass audience March 25, when Entertainment 1 releases it on DVD and video on demand. The Prism Awards are coming up April 22. Whether “Home” wins, Oliver says he feels its nomination — all its nominations and kudos — are “not just an honor, but a victory.”