By Olivia Armstrong
For Hope Litoff, Making 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide Wasn’t Cathartic, but Sharing It Is
Following the New York premiere of 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide, director Hope Litoff and her crew took to the panel stage to help a tear-stained audience work through what they’d just witnessed: Litoff’s visceral reopening of old wounds.
Six years after Litoff’s older, artist sister Ruth took her own life at the age of 42, Hope felt compelled to address her grief. It began in Ruth’s storage unit, where her artwork, photography and bottles upon bottles of prescription medication were held. A journey into Ruth’s past, with her art and photographs at the forefront, uncovered a family’s history of mental illness and substance abuse, and put the director in a complicated dual role of narrator and mourner. After the screening, she admitted making the film “wasn’t cathartic, but sharing it has been incredibly healing.” She, along with producer Beth Levison and their crew, shed light on what happened after they wrapped and what’s to come in this complex journey.
Universal healing was always a goal.
“Because of the film’s name, every time I show it at a festival, it’s kind of a self-selecting audience,” Hope Litoff began. “There are a lot of people who stand up and share their experience with suicide, which has been incredibly rewarding because it’s sometimes the person hasn’t told anyone [before].” Producer Beth Levison added, “The goal is to get people to share, feel less alone, find supportive communities and destigmatize mental illness.”
The animation was key.
Throughout the film, Ruth’s artwork and diaries are brought to life through detailed and nuanced animation. Editor Toby Shimin explained how it allowed Ruth speak for herself. “The biggest challenge was giving Ruth a voice,” Shimin said. “We tried to create as much an equal balance between Hope’s voice and Ruth’s voice. Thanks to Joy Reed, who did all of the animation, I feel like we achieved that.”
Demons of the past came forward.
Hope was 16 years sober going into the making of 32 Pills. Revisiting Ruth’s work and personal artifacts, however, made it increasingly difficult for Hope to maintain her sobriety. Eventually, grief took hold, and Hope documented her reintroduction to alcohol in real time.
It may not be feel-good, but it’s important.
An audience member, who disclosed her work at the American Association of Suicidology, praised the film for its focus on those suicide leaves behind and shared some stats. “Often with this issue, there’s only focus on the act. You brought it to a wider audience and said, ‘This is the full impact: 44,000 lives are lost each year to suicide. For every completion, there’s an average of 25 more attempts.”
32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide premieres on December 7.