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Student filmmakers tackle suburban drug problem

Senior Kelly McCutchejunior Jack Kapswrap up their filming NeuquValley High School Wednesday May 23 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

Senior Kelly McCutcheon, and junior Jack Kapson wrap up their filming at Neuqua Valley High School on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 20, 2012 9:18AM

Earlier this year, Neuqua Valley High School students Kelly McCutcheon and Jack Kapson set out on a mission to open the eyes of local residents to the drug problem they saw plaguing their community. It was through the lens of a video camera that they hoped to show the reality of what was happening around them.

One after another, Naperville high school students were dying of drug and alcohol abuse. Friends were left to reel in the wake of each tragedy.

Through a series of interviews, the teenage filmmakers let those closest to the situation tell the story of what was really happening inside their idyllic suburb.

The film included powerful interviews with more than 20 current and former Neuqua Valley students who spoke candidly about their drug use. Several provided an emotional recounting of the tragic events leading up to the deaths of several classmates.

“This is not an anti-drug video,” McCutcheon insisted. “It’s a documentary that shows what’s going on ... it’s reality.”

In late May, the film, “Neuqua on Drugs,” premiered at the Naperville Public Library to a curious audience. Parents, teachers and social workers showed up to view the documentary. Students were just as on board.

“We wanted to show people what was actually happening. Something not one-sided, but reality,” Kapson said. “There are a lot of things people don’t know about that they should.”

On Dec. 3, the teens had their second showing in Naperville, where dozens more curious residents showed up. They’ve won first place in the high school filmmaker category at the Dreamland International Film Festival held in October in New Haven, Conn., and have catapulted the issue of high school drug use into the forefront of hundreds of parents’ minds.

“We applaud and support Kelly and Jack for taking the initiative to produce such an important, impactful and gutsy film,” said the parents of Megan Miller, a teen who died of a drug overdose earlier this year.

Through fundraising efforts, McCutcheon and Kapson raised thousands of dollars to produce DVDs of their documentary, allowing families to purchase the video online. In August, the students’ Kickstarter campaign drew in donations of more than $6,600 — far beyond their $5,000 goal.

With those funds, McCutcheon and Kapson put together a website, interviewed with media outlets, and watched their homegrown cause turn into a thriving social commentary on a topic people generally remained mum about.

DVDs of the documentary are available for purchase for $9.99 on the film’s website, You can also keep up-to-date with screenings and additional news by finding the film on Facebook.

“It was courageous of Kelly and Jack to produce the documentary, but also of the students that agreed to be interviewed,” said Neuqua Valley High School senior social worker Pam Witt. “It’s always a positive thing when students take the initiative to address what they believe to be an important issue in their community.”

Today, McCutcheon is busy studying cinematography at Columbia College in Chicago. Kapson is finishing his senior year at Neuqua Valley High School. He plans to pursue a career in music as an audio engineer and performing artist.

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