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Film “A Sister’s Call” Charts Woman Struggle to Help Mentally Ill Brother


Call Richmond and sister Rebecca Schaper. Photo courtesy of "A Sister's Call" Website.

Call Richmond disappeared in 1977 and his sister Rebecca Schaper did not hear from him for 20 years. Then Call suddenly reappeared, homeless and suffering from severe paranoid schizophrenia.

Schaper’s husband Jim and two daughters were at first hesitant to let this gray bearded, scruffy, bear of a man even visit their Atlanta home, afraid his mental illness could drive him to violence.

But Schaper decided to do everything she could to get Call on the path to recovery. Their journey is recorded in her soon-to-be-released documentary “A Sister’s Call.”

Schaper, 57, a photographer, learned to use a digital camcorder so she could record her interactions with Call, 60, who lived a few hours away in Greenville, S.C.

The film is brutally honest, never sugarcoating the sexual abuse, suicide and mental illness that plagued the seemingly idyllic middle class Greenville home where Call and Rebecca grew up in the 1960s and 70s.

The film is a rollercoaster ride. Up until the last minute viewers are left wondering whether Call will find balance in his life or sink deeper into mental illness.

“I can’t explain it,” Schaper said. “I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to do a documentary. It was a leap of faith. And Call feels like this film is his purpose, too.”

The film shows the travails people who have mental illness and their caregivers experience. Call had problems finding the right mix of medications as well as housing. At one point in the film Schaper’s daughters questioned why she was giving so much attention to her brother and not immediate family.

“I was really hurt,”Schaper said. “But how can you turn away from a brother or sister who needs help? How can you turn your back?”

The film also demonstrates the help social workers provide. At one point a frustrated and almost burned out Schaper turns to a social worker named Cathy to help her and Call navigate the social service system so he could get the help he needed.

In "A Sister's Call" Call Richmond had trouble finding the right mix of medication to control his mental illness. Photo courtesy of "A Sister's Call" Website.

Other social workers and caseworkers who were not filmed were also helpful, Schaper said. In fact, Schaper said social workers are able to arrange the best care possible when they work as a team with people with mental illnesses, their family or caregivers.

“There were a couple of them — they were great,” Schaper said. “I’m telling you they were a godsend.”

Schaper and her production team plan to finalize “A Sisters Call” before Christmas. They have submitted the film to more than 60 film festivals around the country and also are trying to get as many community screenings as possible.

Schaper hopes the film will prompt the public to become more open about mental illness.

“People who have issues in their family and are open and want to learn more will gravitate to this film,” she said. “I wanted to help stop the stigma. Fear is the lack of knowledge.”

To learn more about Schaper’s film visit the official Website of “A Sister’s Call” by clicking here. And to learn how social workers help people struggling with mental illness visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts here” Mind and Spirit Website by clicking here.

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