And the Oscar goes to: Veterans Crisis Line

Melody Burri mpnnow.com
Veterans Crisis Line responder Maureen McHenry said she watched the Academy Awards Sunday night at home with her four sons.

When HBO cameras showed up in 2013 at the Veterans Crisis Line center in Canandaigua, few could have imagined they’d be seeing their faces splashed across the screen at the 2015 Academy Awards. But that’s what they, and 37 million viewers worldwide, saw as the HBO documentary film Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, won Oscar gold in the documentary short subject category.

Dan Ryan, public affairs officer for the Canandaigua VA Medical Center — home of the Veterans Crisis Line — called seeing his colleagues up on the big screen during the Oscars “a wow moment.”

“It definitely was exciting, no doubt about it,” said Ryan. “It was really quite a thing to see the recognition that the crisis line folks got, and it was well deserved for the work they do.”

The film captures extremely private moments between responders, many of whom are veterans or veterans’ family members, and callers who are in crisis or even suicidal. The viewer never hears the voice of the veteran in crisis — the stories are told only through the voices and expressions of responders. The documentary captured only a minute fraction of the more than 22,000 calls received each month, and more than 1.3 million calls since July 2007.

“It was a little unreal,” said Julianne Mullane, the hotline’s acting program manager. “This thing that we do every day, to have it captured that way was just unreal. But I’m very excited and proud of them.”

Mullane, who started as a responder almost six years ago before moving into her current role, said the center held two of its own “Oscar parties” for the day and night shifts Sunday — in between phone calls. There was a red carpet, and Oscar statues given in 10 categories.

“We want to thank the dedicated people at the Crisis Line and everywhere who take the calls as if their own lives depended on it,” said the film’s director, Ellen Goosenberg Kent. “This incredible honor really goes to the men and women who are brave enough to ask for help.”

Crisis Line Responder Maureen McHenry watched the Oscars from her living room couch with her four sons, ages 7, 9, 13 and 16, after what she called a “crazy, busy day.” She held her breath as the name of the winning documentary was read.

“I got kind of choked up, cried a little bit, and clapped my hands,” she said. “The kids said ‘cool’ and went up to bed.”

Seconds later, McHenry said her phone and Facebook account “exploded” with words of congratulations. Two ex-boyfriends even contacted her, she laughed.

Seeing her own face, and those of her coworkers, on the Oscar screen was “kind of crazy and surreal,” she said.

Others featured in the 40-minute documentary, which can be viewed on HBO.com and HBOgo.com, include Bob Hawks, Maureen McHenry, Eric Koll, Josie Park, Darlene Esposito, Barbara Burkhart, Rob Griffo, Mary Woodruff, Roberta Calhoon-Eagan, Carolina Roy, Beth Olson, Lindsay Roberts, Maria Monahan, and Luis Valasquez.

“I think everyone was just really proud and really hopeful that having won the Oscar, more people would see it and know that it’s OK to call,” said Mullane. “We’re anticipating that over the week as people start to watch the documentary, our (call) volume might go up, so we’ve added some staff.”

The real “win” wasn’t about the Oscar, Mullane said. Getting the Veterans Crisis Line name out there and having people know “there are real, compassionate people who answer the phone” was win enough.

“It’s a nice thing, and everybody appreciates it and was thrilled with it,” said Ryan, “but everybody knows they had a job to do, and they did it.”