Since third grade, high school senior Zach Perry has lived with anxiety. Around the same time, he became interested in filmmaking, when a Christmas film he produced for his church proved to be immensely successful.
Perry found a way to merge his passion for filmmaking with his experience living with anxiety for a short film he created for his senior project at Discovery High School in North Carolina titled “PANIC.”
Perry’s high school requires each senior embark on a yearlong journey driven by a central topic the student is passionate about. As part of the project, students must write a paper, make a presentation and create a product that has a lasting impact on the world — whether it’s one person or one thousand people.
Perry’s topic revolved around anxiety and how to explain it to others. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for two years,” Perry told The Mighty. “But it’s something really delicate and really important and I wanted to make sure it was done right.”
The film follows a student named Kevin as he experiences an anxiety attack during a music class one day. When the teacher questions him, the film shows Kevin in different settings — underwater and in quicksand — to show what an anxiety attack might feel like. At one point, Kevin’s anxiety manifests into a shadowy, physical form and follows him wherever he goes.
Perry hopes that everyone can take something away from the film, regardless of whether they have anxiety. “If I impacted just one person,” he said, “I’d consider that a success.”
For those living with anxiety, Perry wants viewers to know they are not alone. “They’re not alone, that what they’re feeling is something similar to what thousands of people go through,” he said. “You don’t have to be burdened and it’s so important to get help because it works… Anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed about because you can’t help it and it’s part of who you are.”
As for viewers who do not have anxiety, Perry hopes the film can help them understand what anxiety feels like and how important it is to support your loved ones living with the condition.
“I couldn’t have made the film without my friends,” Perry said. “They were very helpful in every aspect. Even if they didn’t quite understand some of the metaphors at first, as they kept helping they saw how different things related to each other and explained anxiety.”
Seeing the examples illustrated in his film, Perry’s friends were able to understand how physical and real it can feel. Perry said that his friends, with their dedication and sympathy, have been one of the best support groups.
Perry’s film has made it beyond his high school. What originally started as one Facebook post has since been shared by hundreds of people beyond his community. “It was shared and shared by people who I have no idea who they are,” Perry said. The film also won the grand jury award at the Southeast Psych Student Film Festival in Charlotte, NC.
Perry plans to study film at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in the fall. “I want to spend the rest of my life making movies and films,” he said. “The fact that you can share emotions and make people feel things without necessarily saying a word is amazing.”