Newark businessman-turned-movie director, inspired by his battle with depression, makes film about mental illness

NEWARK, Essex County (WABC) -- A Newark businessman says he never set out to be a filmmaker, and didn't even study film in college, but his successful battle against depression inspired him to make a movie and raise awareness about the issues facing the mentally ill.

William Michael "Mike" Barbee is now the picture of confidence and a beacon of hope for his community, but it wasn't always this way. In fact, this self-made entrepreneur suffered obstacles in his younger years that would have crushed another person.

Barbee is a successful businessman-turned-movie director who came to Newark's University High School to show his movie "Beyond The Silence."

"You can make it no matter which obstacles, no matter what your challenges are," he said.

Barbee's path was filled with challenges.

"I remember in 1980 our house was set on fire," he said. "Watching two of our loved ones perish in the fire, going to school homeless and just watching over the years the mental toll that had on me."

He suffered from crippling depression and tried to commit suicide at the age of 20.

"What you see here is the finished product of a lot of turmoil, a lot of counseling," Barbee said.

His movie about a guy on trial for a crime he doesn't remember is inspired by Barbee's own life.

"What I had to do was put my truths inside of a fictitious character," he said.

It's a plea for us to go beyond the silence - the stigma - and understand the mentally ill.

Moving "Beyond The Silence" proved moving enough to secure an invitation to show the film in May at the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France.

Barbee called it an honor because less than 1 percent of filmmakers ever get the opportunity to go to Cannes, and he is determined to make the most of his opportunity.

"The Cannes audience can take away that mental illness is real," he said. "Recovery is possible, with help."

Barbee looked to hire some of those who live with persistent mental illness to help him make his movie, while enlisting the talents of Hollywood veterans like Bill Duke to give this project credibility.

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