City Native To Show Doc On Veteran Suicide Awareness

For the first time, a documentary film about the alarming suicide rate of veterans will be shown publicly in Jamestown with an introduction from one of the executive producers who is a Jamestown Native.

At 7 p.m. Monday at Jamestown Community College’s Scharmann Theatre, the documentary film ”Project 22” will be shown, with special guest host Theo Collins. Collins is a Jamestown native and former Marine sergeant who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The film is about the 22-day motorcycle ride made by Dan Egbert, former Marine sergeant and co-director of ”Project 22;” and ”Doc” King, former Army sergeant and co-director of ”Project 22;” in 2013 from California to New York to bring awareness to the high suicide rate of veterans.

The film’s name derives from a 2012 Veterans Administration study that revealed 8,000 veterans commit suicide each year, which would be an average of 22 a day. Collins will introduce the film and lead a discussion afterwards. The free public event is being presented by The Fenton History Center’s Vets Finding Vets program, Jamestown Community College Veterans Committee and JCC history department.

Collins told The Post-Journal he became involved in the project because he is friends with Egbert, who was Collins’ squad leader when he was deployed to the Middle East in 2010 and 2011.

”We stayed friends after, I moved to Pittsburgh and he moved to Long Island. He came up with the idea (for the film) with co-director King. Because we stayed in touch, I learned about ”Project 22,”’ Collins said. ”I thought it was important that they visit Pittsburgh on their ride. After convincing them to come to Pittsburgh to film, I became a location fixer. I found people for them to interview in Pittsburgh, and, after they left, I assisted them with a lot of business matters.

“At the time, I was in my second year of law school and Dan and Doc had never directed a film before. We were all first-timers in the project. So I became semi-responsible for business affairs behind the scenes. That is how I fell into being an executive producer.”

Collins said Pittsburgh was the second-to-last stop before the trip ended at Ground Zero in New York City. He said Pittsburgh was an ideal location for the film because there are a lot of veterans in the ”Steel City” and innovative programs to assist them as they readjust to civilian life.

”There was a lot in Pittsburgh (the film makers) needed to be exposed too like Dr. Roger Brooke, who runs Duquesne’s clinical psychology program. They also interviewed in the film ‘Rocky’ Bleier, former Steeler and Purple Heart holder,” Collins said. ”There area a lot of really good programs in Pittsburgh, which made it one of the most important stops on the ride.”

”Project 22” premiered in Pittsburgh in October 2014, Collins said. He has participated in the showing of the film about a half a dozen times since. He added that it is wonderful that three years later, there is still interest in viewing the film publicly.

”It is fantastic. It is a great validation for our time into the project. People sometimes misinterpret that it is an organization. ‘Project 22’ is a film,” he said. ”It started out just as an awareness ride across the country (no filming). That was the initial idea, but it has evolved into something that has lasted much longer than 22 days.”

Collins said another important aspect is the film makers wanted to make sure there were no financial barriers to anyone seeing the film. That is why there are free copies of the film or screenings at some Veterans Administration clinics. Also, last year the film became available to stream for free online at PBS.org.

”I’m really excited to bring the film to Jamestown for the first time. The fact it is going to be shown in Jamestown, where I grew up and went to school, I’m glad and excited to do this,” he said. ”I’ve heard there is a lot of enthusiasm for the film and appreciate the efforts of everyone involved in putting this together. It is going to be a great time Monday.”

The film showing in Jamestown started with John Collins, a volunteer at the Fenton History Center and Theo’s father, who told Barbara Cessna, Fenton library researcher who heads the Vets Finding Vets program, about the documentary film. The Vets Finding Vets program connects veterans to other veterans through events and research projects. The Vets Finding Vets program is funded in part via a grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. All veterans are encouraged to join by calling the Fenton History Center at 664-6256.  For more information, visit the Fenton’s website, fentonhistorycenter.org.

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