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Chicago Filmmaker Documents Woman's Quest To Overcome Fear, Meet All Her Facebook Friends

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ArLynn Presser at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport before setting out a quest to meet each of her 325 Facebook friends, a journey captured by filmmaker Ben Gonzales in a new documentary. Presser, a writer, has struggled with panic and agoraphobia for much of her life.
ArLynn Presser at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport before setting out a quest to meet each of her 325 Facebook friends, a journey captured by filmmaker Ben Gonzales in a new documentary. Presser, a writer, has struggled with panic and agoraphobia for much of her life.

When Chicago filmmaker Benjamin Gonzales set out to create a film telling the story of his friend ArLynn Presser's ambitious goal to meet all of her 325 Facebook friends over the course of one year, he wasn't aiming to create a documentary about anxiety.

But, Gonzales soon found, the gravity of Presser's journey simply wouldn't resonate without explaining how the 51-year-old Glen Ellyn, Ill. woman, who has struggled with agoraphobia and anxiety for much of her life, decided to set a different course in the New Year's resolution she made on December 31, 2010.

On that night, Presser explained to Patch earlier this month, the writer chose to face her fears of social interactions head on and travel the world in a very different sort of social networking. As of this month, she's made it all the way through her Facebook list and the journey was captured in a new documentary film, titled "Face To Facebook" (f2fb), directed by Gonzales.

In order to put the finishing touches on the film, Gonzales has launched a Kickstarter campaign. Continuing the "Can They Kick It?" series, HuffPost Chicago interviewed the filmmaker about how his project has gone.

HP: How did you first come across ArLynn's story and what inspired you to make her journey the subject of a documentary?
BG: I met her son first because my uncle had known ArLynn for a number of years and her son was involved in this movie I was consulting on. I met her that way. ArLynn and I became Facebook friends and at one point this year, she came to visit me as a part of her project. I hadn't been on Facebook for a year and a half and had no idea what was going on because we hadn't been in contact for a while.

She came over and said, "You know what's going on with me, right?" I said no. She asked, "You know I'm agoraphobic, right?" And I never would have known. She said that her New Year's resolution was to do this project and I thought it was fascinating. I told her this is a really huge thing. Not only are you trying to conquer your own fears, anxieties and phobias, but it's a really bold task to meet all these people around the world no matter who you are, turning what would be just a visual connection into something real, making that real connection. And I thought this would make a great movie. Within a week, she called me up and said, "I think this should be a documentary film." And I said, "I think this should be a film by Ben Gonzales."

(Scroll down to watch a trailer of the film.)

As you approached this story with the new purpose of making a film about it, developing a narrative arch and all of that, what were some of the biggest considerations you had on your mind in terms of what you hoped to achieve?
At first I thought that I'd have the camera on her all the time, but I soon realized I'd have 1,000 hours of footage on the back end that way. So I chose to capture 20 or 30 of these interactions out of the 300 Facebook friends she was meeting, not only those she is meeting locally in Chicago, but a few of the ones where she traveled out of the state and out of the country to meet. I wanted to give the audience a slice of all these people she's met.

The thing about ArLynn that I think a lot of people don't know is that she has this gift to get people to open up about their lives in ways I've never been able to see anyone else do, like a priest would. She's a nice, kind, caring person who genuinely cares about what you have to say. And I wanted to capture this aspect of her personality. She's not just there for herself, she's really interested in who these people are and what kind of friends she has. I wanted to tell this story of, sort of, the caterpillar turning into a butterfly, going out and seeing the world in a way unlike anything she's ever done. But that's only half the movie. In order to explain the gravity of what she's doing, it was essential to give a good sense of what it means to have anxiety and panic attacks and agoraphobia.

I also wanted to show that with this new media -- Twitter and Facebook -- is how does it relate to and change the way we as a society and individuals connect with and relate to the people in our lives. It's really a lot of information to pack into two hours, but I think we're asking some questions that haven't been asked before.

Given how close you are to the film's subject matter, do you find it impacting your own life?
It's seeped into every aspect of my life over the last six months, especially in the way I communicate with my son and how I relate to and interact with people online and in person. Some friends and family who struggle with these issues have approached me after I started making this film whom I didn't know struggled with this. I think it's helped my friends open up about their experiences. And it's also made me curious about my 700 or so Facebook friends, about half of whom I've met in person. It makes me wonder: What are the stories behind these people?

What is the timeline going forward with the film's development?
I've written a couple of grants for this and am waiting to see if those will come into play, and there's some private equity involved too. As far as ArLynn, she's almost done with her journey -- she will be done on New Year's Eve, so I'll do some followup interviews with her before we head into editing and post-production by the end of February. Hopefully we will be done with the film by July or August and ready for festivals and theatrical distribution. I feel this is subject matter worthy of exposition on a larger scale, so I'm seeing what I can do to get it out there and make that happen. The Kickstarter is essentially in continuing that process.

How has the Kickstarter been going?
Slower than I'd like, of course. The last Kickstarter link we put up didn't hit our goal so anyone who looks up the film can see that. I was a bit shocked when it didn't get the reception I thought it would initially -- it got a lot of support but didn't it didn't get there. I didn't realize how much of a full-time job it is to spread the word about something like this, no matter how good of an idea it is. But we've been trying to make the pitch relate to every single person who sees it and make this feel relevant to people in a way they may not normally think about. Where we were at four days into the campaign it took me a month to get to last time around, but I would still love to talk to Jeff Tweedy or other celebrities who have gone through these issues who could help us get the word out even more.

Given all the work that goes into not only the film itself but promoting it and trying to pull together the funding to make these things happen, what has been the biggest motivating factor for you to reach the finish line?
One of the main reasons I've pushed through all the tough stuff is because when I started making this film, I thought it was a really neat film with great elements but it wasn't until I started doing lots of research and talking to professionals in the industry that deal with panic attacks and anxiety that I realized that the implications of this are much larger than ArLynn's story. I didn't set out to make a movie about anxiety or panic attacks, but I started to realize how many people are affected by this and how misdiagnosed and undertreated it is. It's an outrageous number of people who suffer from it but don't get diagnosed or reported because it is so stigmatized. Some of the greatest leaders in the world and biggest stars have struggled with this and there are ways to work through it so it doesn't have to be so debilitating. People going through this are not going through it alone. That's why I think this story is important to tell.

As of Dec. 29, with just more than two weeks to go, the "Face To Facebook" film's Kickstarter campaign has raised about $1,000 of their $15,000 goal via their Kickstarter campaign. Click here to learn more and help the film come into fruition.

If you have a Chicago-based Kickstarter or IndieGoGo project that you'd like to see featured in "Can They Kick It?"? Get in touch with us at chicago@huffingtonpost.com.

WATCH the "Face To Facebook" film's Kickstarter video:

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