GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge painter Theresa DeSalvio, who created an illustrated book about heroin addiction and then turned the book into a 17-minute film, had the film screened last weekend at the Hudson Valley International Film Festival in the documentary category.
DeSalvio’s book, “Tales: A Cautionary Story about Heroin Addiction,” was a series of paintings that she captioned. In her book, the cartoon figure of Pinocchio is an addict.
“I’m not sure what made me go the route of the film festivals,” DeSalvio said earlier this week. “But it is so exciting and fun to see what other filmmakers are doing.”
The festival was the second one for DeSalvio’s adapted book. It was first shown in Jersey City at the Brightside Tavern Shorts Festival.
“The event in Jersey City was low-key and fun,” she said. “In Hudson Valley, it was everything you’d expect a film festival to be, with the red carpet and the food, music and two days of nonstop films in different theaters at the same time.”
DeSalvio self-published her book and the paintings appeared in an art exhibition.
“I hadn’t planned the book before the exhibit,” she said. “After I published, I realized I had to have a way of telling people the story.”
DeSalvio said making a film seemed to be the way to go. She had never made a film and there was a lot to learn, she said. The book was published in late 2015; the film was made this year in April and remastered in June.
In her film, the camera scans over the paintings, which show the puppet-boy becoming enmeshed in heroin addiction. DeSalvio narrates the film by reading from the text of her book. Additional narration is provided using a male voice. DeSalvio said she wanted this contrast. The content of the man’s narration is drawn from government documents underscoring the tragedy of heroin
“I researched all those topics,” DeSalvio said. “I felt they were very important. I thought the people, when they looked at the book, didn’t know where to take it. It has to be spelled out. It was important to make the message very clear.”
For the male narrator’s voice, DeSalvio first used a friend’s husband, but mistakes were made and she felt it wasn’t possible to ask someone doing her a favor, to do it over again and again.
“I got a professional voice narrator,” she said. “And I went into a sound studio for my own voice. I had first done it at my dining room table.”
DeSalvio also had to learn how to make her painted images tell the story.
“It took me awhile to master that,” she said. “A key part of the movie is the music. It holds it together and builds tension.”
The music for the film was written by NJ composer Michael DeMaio, and performed by The Amelia String Quartet, which was originated by DeSalvio’s daughter, Amelia Muccia, who is a performer with the group.
When DeSalvio first began filming, she said the camera simply moved back and forth across the images of the paintings.
“But it clicked on me that I needed to tell a story,” she said. “How the camera moved through the pictures, how I focused: that’s telling the story.”
DeSalvio said she would like to make another film.
“It’s such an engaging process,” she said. “I’m a narrative painter. Film is the perfect way to do that.”
DeSalvio did most of her work on the film at an Apple store in the Short Hills Mall, working in the Apple program iMovie.
“I had a whole team and each person offered me something,” she said. “They were able to tell me so much.”
But somewhat ironically, the audience DeSalvio would like to reach, Glen Ridge schoolchildren, is apparently out-of-reach for her right now. DeSalvio said she was told by a Glen Ridge School District guidance counselor that she would have to edit her film because it was unacceptable due to images of prostitution — addressed as a way to buy more drugs — and a hangman’s noose used as an image of suicide, the choice some addicts make.
DeSalvio said editing out these images is not the undiluted warning she wants her film to have. Most people who had the opportunity to see the film found it powerful, moving and educational, she said, and told her it should be shown, unedited, in schools across the country. She said those people included parents, grandparents, educators and former educators.
“One person who had been a first-grade teacher in Paterson said she would have shown it to her students, many of them whose parents had drug problems,” DeSalvio said. “At the festival this weekend, a filmmaker said he and his wife were glad their daughters saw the film.”
But DeSalvio said she may rethink her opposition regarding the changes in order to have three versions of the film: an unedited version, a high school version and an elementary school version. But for now, she said, she would like to find distribution for the film as an education tool.
“It’s easy to understand and I tell it in an interesting way,” the filmmaker said.