Smoke Signal hosts ‘Life with Layla’ screening

Documentary made by PV alum shown in auditorium

(Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Wednesday, Nov. 6 to include a Facebook live stream of the Q & A.)

Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella said that there is no doubt that “we have an opioid and heroin epidemic” in Bergen County. Musella gave an opening speech during the start of the “Life with Layla” documentary screening on Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

“I think [the documentary] will help other families by knowing that if they are dealing with it [addiction] or they know someone is struggling, they should let them know that there is always hope,” said Layla, the film’s star. “It can get better no matter what scenario they are in.” 

Pascack Valley 2008 alum Ken Spooner’s 2019 documentary “Life with Layla” was screened and sponsored by The Smoke Signal as a fundraiser for the film to gain a national audience. The documentary was shown in the PV auditorium at 7 p.m. and was followed by a Q & A with the cast, producers, and directors of the film. Around 100 people from New Jersey communities attended, including Hillsdale and River Vale residents. 

“This is really how it all starts, getting the community together, to see a film like this,” co-director and co-producer Mike Mee said. “The point of this film is to show how it affects everyone, even down to children, and we hope this unique angle through the eyes of a child really help show you that drug addicts are human beings. They deserve help.”

The film focuses on the life of 7-year-old Layla, whose family struggles with substance abuse. It revolves around the aftermath of the death of her aunt Melissa who died from a heroin overdose, along with her uncle Greg’s ongoing struggle with heroin addiction. Layla’s family lives in Sussex County, roughly two hours away from Bergen County, bringing this film close to home. 

“[Addiction] affects the entire family,” Spooner said. 

After the screening, Layla, her mother Cait, her grandpa Greg Sr., producer Steve McCarthy, co-director Mike Mee, and Ken Spooner were called on stage for a Q & A.

“The film started as a much broader topic on addiction,” Mee said. “What was a broader topic really narrowed down ‘to an important family story that means much more.’”

McCarthy said that the struggle that Layla’s family faces also represents the struggle that other families in America deal with when faced with addiction and substance abuse. 

The stigma behind it, I mean the whole reason we’re afraid to talk to [our kids] about it, is because we’re almost embarrassed and ashamed of [addiction],” Cait said. “They’re going to want to know, so if you just start teaching them at home and educating them on it, you have a good chance of not having them be that statistic.”

Layla believes that educating the next generation is “the only way that we can end the stigma and break the cycle.” 

“Everyone was wishing for a miracle that [Melissa] would come back,” Greg Sr. said. “It turns out that the miracle is a movie called ‘Life with Layla’ and she lives on with this. She will be able to help a lot of people with this.”

Cait said that she did not want her sister’s death to be in vain and that she is happy that people are able to know how important Melissa is to her family. 

“My aunt Melissa was an amazing person and I will miss her forever and ever,” Layla said. “I wish to spend the rest of my life in her honor by raising awareness and educating [others] about addiction.” 

Check out The Smoke Signal‘s Facebook live stream of the Q & A session here.