UT grad's film demystifies emotional healing process

In “Beyond Adversity,” an impressive ensemble cast hashes out traumas that we can all relate to -- from our own experiences or those of our loved ones.

Soon-to-be University of Tampa grad Kaneesha “Kiki” Heath’s full-length film features an ensemble cast, starring actors from Tampa Bay, New York, Atlanta, and California.

One young woman has disrupted memories from sexual abuse. Another is facing a
Kiki Heath will premiere and discuss her film “Beyond Adversity’’ on Saturday, Aug. 7, at 3 p.m. at the Reeves Theater at the University of Tampa.
cancer diagnosis while her friend is struggling with alcoholism. Meanwhile, a 30-something mom has social anxiety after a brutal divorce, and a middle-aged-veteran father-to-be has combat-related PTSD. He feels reluctant to sleep next to the mother of his child because of his violent nightmares.

They all convey crises that are all too real, bringing awareness to people who struggle with challenges regulating their emotions -- people who have trouble functioning at the most basic level and fall between the cracks of treatment options and recovery groups.

With a focus on the importance of confronting our problems, no matter what they are, and healing from them, the film spotlights a 12-step program that exists just for traumas before they manifest in self-destruction, addiction, or worse yet, suicide. It’s called Emotions Anonymous, and the characters in “Beyond Adversity” portray members of an EA chapter that writer-director Heath modeled after a real-life group she visited.

“If people knew EA was a resource for them, besides just the mental health programs where you're really struggling and hit rock bottom, we could stop it before we get to that point,” Heath says. “Let's talk to people and bring them up before it gets to that level.”

“Beyond Adversity” also offers a close-up on the influence of people in the characters’ lives, for better and worse. In the film, the encouragement of peers and loved ones spur pivotal moments in the character arcs.

“I think it’s really important to consider how we treat people when they’re in a crisis,” Heath says. “The people around us make an impact on our emotional well-being.”

Heath also shared that her own experiences inspired her to help others. She grew up “a military brat” in Germany, the U.S., and Japan, and knows what it’s like to feel out of place. The upheaval allowed her to have empathy for people who don’t feel like they belong anywhere.

Heath’s company, Homegurl Flix, specializes in issue-driven topics and films created to empower marginalized citizens, art began to imitate life -- or vice versa. A producer pulled out during production and she lost footage and access to support personnel. Members of the cast pulled together and helped. Friends pitched in, and she put the film together over the course of a couple of years that tested the filmmaker’s mettle -- truly “beyond adversity.”

“I can tell you that I've started this film without any contracts in place,” Heath confesses. “That was the worst thing I've ever done in my life. I've learned my lesson.”

Despite the film’s production hiccups, it’s remarkably polished for an indie. One tragic situation (no spoilers!) comes across as a difficult choice but provides a teachable moment for the EA group members. Heath explained why she chose to tackle a tragic outcome:

“I think that's my twist from living in America,” she says. “Now that I live here, the headlines are so constantly formed in tragedy. I wanted to emphasize what the failure to act or react in situations can lead to, so, hopefully, others watching could be more aware of what is happening around them and possibly prevent it. Everyone's lives were set up for something potentially tragic, the support system in their direct lives greatly influenced it.”

Heath invited the actors to improvise and use their own parlance in expressing themselves, so the dialogue comes across more organic and natural -- which can be a challenge when you’re presenting issues-driven art.

“Beyond Adversity” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Kiki Heath will premiere and discuss her film “Beyond Adversity’’ on Saturday, Aug. 7, at 3 p.m. at the Reeves Theater at the University of Tampa.
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.