"A Thoughtful & Uplifting Journey"

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When filmmaker Benjamin Wagner was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome in 2021, he suddenly saw the impact of trauma and adverse stress all around him: in rising incidences of gun violence and hate crime, the growth of antidepressant use and binge drinking, and a mental health crisis so urgent that it prompted a national hotline.

And so he decided – as Fred Rogers, the subject of his 2012 PBS documentary, Mister Rogers & Me, always encouraged him – to “look for the helpers.”

In Friends & Neighbors, Wagner returns to his developmental traumas to better understand their causes, context, and impact.

He interrogates his career to recognize how adverse stress maladapts our nervous systems and drives unhealthy coping mechanisms and poor health outcomes. He seeks insight from the people who are working to make the communities around them whole by helping heal a deeply anxious and uncertain population.

And he, in the words of his hero, one-time neighbor, and the subject of his 2012 PBS documentary, Mister Rogers & Me, Fred Rogers, always encouraged him, “looks for the helpers” in post-pandemic America, the people who are working to make themselves and the communities around them whole by helping heal a deeply anxious and uncertain population.

People like friend, Anne Kubitsky, who's Look for the Good Project is bringing social-emotional wellness, resilience and hope to grammar schools across America.

People like neighbor, Sarah McBride, whose election as America’s first transgender state senator accelerated dignity, equality, and a level playing field for all.

People like friend, Michael Tyler, who channeled the traumas of troubled inner-city childhood into the Carl Sandburg Literary Award-winning children’s book, The Skin You Live In.

People like neighbor, WRK Group CEO Logan Herring, whose purpose-built community development is combating decades of structural racism, wealth inequality, and systemic neglect through affordable food, housing, and health care.

And people like friends Kelli Rae Powell, Matthew Tousignant, and Lauren Scott, whose therapies bring healing through music, movement, and education.

And neighbors like Delaware's former Community and Family Services Director Alonna Berry and Center for Change Director Winden Rowe, whose advocacy is changing the lens through which society sees trauma.

By sharing these stories and journeys, we make space for others to do the same, and provide roadmaps for healing, and strategies for healthier lives and communities.

Because, as Fred Rogers often said, when we "make the mentionable manageable,” we find a way forward together. And “when we look for the helpers, we know that there’s hope.”

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Friends & Neighbors premiered at the Heartland and Dubuque Film Festivals and screened during Mental Health Awareness Month 2024. The film is slated for national release in 2025.

"If we can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health." - Fred Rogers