The “S-Town” podcast took over the world in 2017, with over 90,000,000 people listening to the tragic story of Woodstock native John B. McLemore. People became so fascinated with it that visitors to Bibb County still ask about it regularly, and want to see places talked about in the podcast. Something people don’t mention as often is the painful ending of John B. McLemore’s journey – his suicide.
A close friend of McLemore’s, Cheryl Dodson of Woodstock (and a contributor to the Bibb Voice) happened to meet Alabama filmmaker Kyle Roberts at a suicide awareness and prevention event in Birmingham in 2018. Kyle and his wife, Mary (a therapist) were volunteering at the “Out of the Darkness” suicide walk. Mary was an event organizer and Kyle made a video covering the event, during the process of which he interviewed Cheryl.
“He approached me for an interview,” Cheryl recalled, “I had been in the opening ceremony and I wore the beads that represent awareness and prevention. They shared my story in the introduction.”
For those who haven’t heard the S-Town podcast, it should be noted that Cheryl is in that, too. “I am in Chapter 7. People said that is a compliment because I have a different perspective on John of a happier time in his life and that is something they are trying to leave you with at the end,” she said.
“IF YOU WANT TO TELL JOHN’S STRUGGLES, GIVE HIM A LEGACY OF PREVENTION.”
— CHERYL DODSON
The fact that S-Town is among Kyle Roberts’ all-time favorite podcasts made it serendipitous that he met Cheryl at the prevention event, and that she saw the video of it that he produced. “Mary and I have both had people close to us die by suicide and we really have a heart for spreading hope and ending the stigma against talking about it!” Roberts said.
Cheryl remembered how she came to contact Kyle about the project. “The makers of the podcast are making a movie. I had approached them and asked them to do a follow up that included prevention and I didn’t hear back. So I contacted Kyle and asked if we could do something small, so that someone searching S-Town might find prevention information.”
Roberts and his production company, Next Level Productions out of Birmingham, Alabama, have seen some recent success with a documentary on the film festival circuit. “I have worked on four feature films, fifty plus short films, and everything from commercials to music videos,” Roberts added, “but this will be Next Level Production’s first self-produced feature … assuming we raise some funds.”
That’s the magic word in independent film: funding. In search of the financial backing to cover the expenses associated with making a feature length documentary, Roberts and Dodson have turned to the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo (contribute to their campaign here). Fully and carefully budgeted out, they are seeking $60,000 total. Their hope is that enough fans of the podcast as well as supporters of the suicide prevention and awareness effort contribute to help make the documentary happen. It will not, however, be a re-do of the S-Town story. Their intent is to turn the “s-town” stigma into “Us-town” … a positive.
Cheryl met John B. McLemore in 1998 when she was the Woodstock town clerk. She hired him to fix a clock for her, and they struck up a friendship. “We loved music and flowers. We opened the Woodstock Garden Center around 2005, but it was not profitable so it was stressful. But we remained friends,” she said.
After the podcast, people reached out to her from all over. “I was connected with Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Coalition (ASPARC). They encouraged me to take an at-home study course and I began to speak publicly and promote suicide prevention.” Now she hopes to reach a wider audience by way of a documentary.
With US-Town: Amidst the Flowers, the hope of producers Cheryl, Kyle, and Mary (the mental health expert for the film) is to raise awareness for suicide prevention. “I have been contacted by many people who feel like John or who have a John in their life,” Cheryl said, “I think we have learned a lot and I want to share that. Many people feel that they know John because of the podcast, so it makes it easier to talk about mental health because it is like we have a mutual friend.
“The S-Town movie is coming in the next year, and I would love for our work to influence and inspire and above all help someone. I hope no one ever has to go through the loss of a loved one to suicide,” Cheryl added.
On choosing the title for their documentary, US-Town: Amidst the Flowers, Cheryl considered something that makes many Bibb County locals cringe to hear about the original S-Town podcast – its title and the implication of this not being a nice place to be.
“The name S-Town was very upsetting to me,” Cheryl noted, “I have lived here my entire life and I love the area and the people. I believe S-Town is not the geographical coordinates of Woodstock, Alabama. I believe S-Town is the state of mind of anyone struggling with depression. I am sure [the title] hurts people, but also people are hurting and we need to help them.”
Cheryl makes bold moves in her mission. She is now on the board of directors for ASPARC, and Bibb County recently appointed her to the Indian Rivers Behavioral Health Board of Directors.
“If I have learned anything it is that we have to reduce the stigma associated with mental health. We are all in this together.”
Production of US-Town: Amidst the Flowers will take place throughout 2020 and will hopefully be released in 2021.
If you are struggling with depression you can call 1-800-273-TALK or text 741741.
For more information on how to help someone or to schedule QPR training with asparc.org.
“QPR-Question/ Persuade/ Refer – it is like CPR for mental health,” Cheryl added.
For more details about the film or to support US-Town: Amidst the Flowers financially, click the link below. Even if you are not able to contribute, spread the word by sharing this article or the link below:
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