Teen’s first feature-length film highlights eating disorder recovery


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A young Austin filmmaker is branching out from her usual short films and web series to write and direct her first feature-length movie about eating disorders and what treatment looks like for those who make it there.

“This is actually the last scene,” Sofia Martinez, the name and creative mind behind Martinez Films, said Sunday afternoon after shooting for several hours in an office building conference room downtown.

The set is borrowed space and the gear they’re using needs a little tape every now and then, but when you’re a teenager, you work with what you have. “This is what happens when you don’t have a budget,” the 17-year-old Martinez said after their clapperboard broke and had to be repaired with the same pink tape Martinez used to mark off actors’ blocking.

“It looks really good,” said Aleis Work, 17. She plays “Emily” in the movie, “and she is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa type 2.”

On this day of production — one of the last before Martinez gets the movie ready to release — Work is outfitted with a feeding tube attached to her nose. It’s a fake, of course, but the condition that brought her character to treatment is real for millions of young girls and boys.

“I feel like everyone has a certain idea of it in their head,” she said of eating disorders. “I mean, I certainly did.”

Too often, Martinez and the group of teenage and preteen actors said, the image of eating disorders is glamorized on TV and in movies. The movie, titled “May I Be at Peace,” follows several young people as they get treatment for a range of eating disorders and aims to portray a more honest take.

And, it comes from an honest place — Martinez has been working on the project for more than a year.

“I started writing this story while I was still in the hospital,” she said. “The story is based off of my own experiences in the eating disorder world. I was diagnosed with anorexia myself.”

The title of the movie comes from her time in treatment; “May I be at peace” was the start of a poem they’d recite at the beginning of meals. In the movie, characters tap a small metal singing bowl — traditionally used for meditation — and say the same words before eating.

After five months of treatment about a year ago, Martinez said, she’s doing much better, and with this project, she’s now doing good. “I want to portray this story as accurately as possible so that there is a true story out there.”

“It is happening and it’s not beautiful,” said actor Luca Decamillo, 15. Like several of the young actors KXAN interviewed, she’s seen classmates struggle to varying degrees with eating disorders. Her character in the treatment center tried to commit suicide.

“Whenever I am shooting scenes, I have bandages that I have to wrap around my wrists,” she said. “It’s just trying to help the viewers like see that this is something that’s actually happening.”

“We know that someone dies from an eating disorder every 62 minutes,” Dr. Allison Chase, managing clinical director of the Eating Recovery Center in Austin, said. “So approximately once an hour, someone dies from an eating disorder.”

About 1 percent of the population — millions of people — have some sort of eating disorder, whether it’s anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or another less-publicized condition, Chase said. “They range in shape and size and gender and ethnicity — all of the above.”

The disorders are complicated, both in how they manifest themselves and in their treatment, she added. Eating disorders often come with other mental health struggles, such an anxiety or depression, and have physiological consequences, such as a weakened heart and the inability to regulate body temperature

Her clinic treats a range of disorders in children as young as 10 years old.

Martinez’s movie features a cast and crew ranging from elementary-age children to high-schoolers. “I definitely want people to see that, you know, you’re not alone,” said actor Setlla Groat, 13,  “and this is really something that you can overcome.”

Everyone working on the movie has some version of that message they’d like audiences to take from it. “There’s no right size for our bodies,” Work said, “because we’re all our own unique individuals with our own healthy weights and our own specific needs.”

That’s why the film takes place in treatment, Martinez said. “Now that I’m recovered, I feel like I can truly be happy now and my purpose of all this recovery and my happiness is to pass on the message of recovery.”

She’s writing the story she hopes more young people like her get the chance to live. “I won’t spoil it,” she said, “but it has a very peaceful ending.”

To support Martinez financially as she raises money to submit the movie to film festivals, click here to donate.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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