ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A new film is shooting this month in Albuquerque with a local cast and crew, but the director says it almost didn’t happen after a medical diagnosis during pre-production changed everything. Since graduating from New Mexico State, Sheridan O’Donnell’s life has been about making films

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After losing a friend to suicide and almost losing a close family member to an attempt, he says that inspired him to use his craft to open a conversation about mental health and the stigmas that surround it. “Those two events catapulted me into wanting to write something about mental health and explore that,” said O’Donnell. “When I was 24, I had a friend who died by suicide and they were bipolar kind of throughout their life, struggled with their mental health and up until that time, I never really had anyone in my life who was perpetually struggling with mental health. So I wrote this film to kind of explore their mental state.”

He used the experience to write ‘Little Brother.’ Also directing the film, he says it tackles the topic of suicide and mental health within family, head-on. “Just kind of merged those two concepts to have a suicidal brother and a brother who is learning along the way how to support his sibling,” said O’Donnell. “The movie is about Jake and Pete, two brothers. Jake flies to Albuquerque to drive his brother home to Seattle, Washington, where his parents are, kind of for an intervention. Pete has just attempted suicide at the beginning of the film and it’s about them sort of reconciling their past and discussing Pete’s mental health along the way.”

After years of putting the film’s pieces together, O’Donnell is getting ready to begin production here in Albuquerque. However, the film almost didn’t happen. “In 2020, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa which is a rare, incurable, degenerative visual condition where you kind of slowly, essentially become legally blind,” said O’Donnell. “I, for a brief period of time, considered giving up on making Little Brother, making this film.”

He says the diagnosis flipped his world upside down. After a lot of thought, he found mentors who have faced the same hurdles, inspiring him to keep going and find a new way to still make films.

“Just kind of reprogram and recalibrate my understanding of what a person with a disability can do. I met a lot of individuals, authors, visual artists, skateboarders, who are changing, right now there’s a revolution happening with people with disabilities redefining what able-bodied society deems they can do and can’t do,” said O’Donnell. “It really wasn’t about me, it was trying to honor my late friend and that was kind of what pushed me to say I can’t stop making this film.”

Now, it’s persevered into a homegrown project of a New Mexican cast and crew with local filmmakers like Mary Haarmeyer getting on board. While this is the first major project since his diagnosis, O’Donnell says it won’t be the last. “It really wasn’t about me, it was trying to honor my late friend and that was kind of what pushed me to say I can’t stop making this film,” said O’Donnell. “It’s not whether you can or can’t, it’s simply how you would do it.”

Little Brother starts filming on Aug. 16. O’Donnell says the production has caught the eye of Academy Award winners, but an official cast has not been announced yet.