Scattering CJ

The loss of one becomes the journey of many.
by
Year Released
2022
Film Length(s)
63 mins
Closed captioning available Audio description available
Remote video URL

Introduction

When veteran CJ Twomey ended his life at age 20, his family was plunged into grief. In a moment of desperate inspiration, his mother Hallie put a call out on Facebook asking to scatter his ashes in a place of special meaning. That call moved tens of thousands to answer.

Featured review

Scattering CJ is one of the most powerful movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a wonderful example of how a family took their grief and their loss and tried to do something for the greater good of this world.
Dr. Jerry Reed
National expert on mental health and suicide prevention, and Senior Vice President, Education Development Center

Synopsis

Three years after witnessing the violent suicide of her oldest son CJ, Hallie Twomey was determined to retake ownership of his memory as the charismatic, funny and generous soul she knew — to sustain the memory of how he lived, and not how he died.

In a moment of desperate inspiration, she put a call out to the world on Facebook: would a handful of sympathetic travelers help fulfill her son's ambition to see all the corners of the Earth by scattering some of his ashes in a place of beauty or special meaning to them?

It was a call that would resonate beyond her wildest expectations; the world answered and the loss of one became the inspiring, heart-wrenching mission of thousands.

Hallie’s mission has given rise to a social media phenomenon — one with the ability to save lives offline as well as drawing together a community online that has congregated in solidarity and empathy in dealing with a still heavily stigmatized and misunderstood form of mental illness.

Aggregating hundreds of clips chronicling ash-scattering pilgrimages worldwide, combined with intimate interviews and verité filmmaking, Scattering CJ explores the devastating effects of suicide, the extraordinary generosity of strangers, and one troubled family's attempt to finally find peace.

Reviews

It’s a story of communal healing the likes of which could soften the heart of even the most jaded cynics…[captured] with all the respect and dignity it deserves.
Nathanael Hood
The Young Folks
Scattering CJ gave people an opening to talk about suicide.
Lindsay Tice
Lewiston Sun-Journal
Scattering CJ is an intimate and heart-breaking tale which offers unique lessons about the power of human compassion.
Katka Reszke
Festival Director, ReelAbilities: Boston
Scattering CJ demonstrates of the power of a simple heartfelt, brave, honest act. This is a wonderfully made, powerful and important film.
Dr. Katherine Schear
The Center for Complicated Grief, Columbia University
Now is the time that we really need to be proactive and invest in public mental health and in suicide prevention. I thank you all for your leadership and creativity in bringing forth this new film.
U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-8)
Stories are at the heart of social movements. What a powerful piece of filmmaking. It’s a beautiful work of art.
Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas
Mental Health Advocate and Speaker

Awards and Screenings

Audience Award Dunedin International Film Festival, 2020
Pioneer Award Richmond International Film Festival, 2020
Award for Excellence Women Filmmakers Impact DOCS, 2021
Award for Excellence Awareness Raising Impact DOCS, 2021
Award for Excellence Documentary Feature Impact DOCS, 2021
Award for Excellence Accolade Global Film Competition, 2021

Director Commentary

Hallie taught me what resilience looks like, about the depths of sadness, of what it means to summon the courage to get up and face the next day. She trusted us to chronicle her family's story during a period of unimaginable loss and great change in their lives, and we never took that trust lightly.

Without hesitation, this family embraced the documentary process, allowing our cameras to become an ever-present part of their lives. We were given access to their day-to-day moments, like accompanying CJ’s younger brother Connor to the welding shop, or taking an early morning drive with John to work before spending hours upon hours with Hallie at home, packing ashes at her dining room table.

What we witnessed is a mother on a mission. And it soon became clear that Hallie’s posts describing her grief and guilt in brutally honest terms had struck a chord that resounded far and wide. She was inundated with heartfelt messages of condolence and thanks, both for sharing her pain and for giving others the strength to do so themselves. The Scattering CJ project took off before our eyes, and soon CJ’s ashes were traveling the globe, from that dining room table to hundreds of destinations the world over.

At the outset of our filming, we asked ourselves if participating in the documentary process would become the lasting testimonial to her son that Hallie craved. Despite all the good that had been wrought from the tragedy for so many others and over such distances, would she ever be able to find her own peace?

The questions we posed defied easy answers. They still do.

It’s been twelve years since CJ passed and over seven years since we began our own journey alongside the family. Over this time, it’s been a privilege to get to know the Twomeys, to meet some of the “scatterers” and even end up working with one of them. Australian graphic designer Kelly Vella not only took CJ’s ashes to Fiji with an entourage of extended family, but also ended up generously donating her time and talents to a fruitful, long-distance collaboration; Kelly designed the film’s closing graphic that brilliantly illuminates the 1,000-plus destinations where CJ has been scattered. Fittingly, like the scattering project itself, the film was also enriched by the kindness and gifts of strangers.

Collectively our dedicated team aimed to make a film that coaxes out more of humanity’s innate goodness, adds strength to the purpose of a heartbroken mom and hopefully helps change lives. Ultimately, Scattering CJ might reveal a truth to others that we see more deeply than before we embarked on this journey: from the darkest loss can emerge the brightest of life.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Audio Description
  • Closed Captioning
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • Spanish

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Resources for Educators

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