The Metamorphosis of Sanetta Watkins (video)

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“Once I started talking about my problems, because everyone else was sharing their story, I realized that everyone here has stories and that I wasn’t by myself.” —Sanetta Watkins

Notes about a new documentary, Hollywood Beauty Salon, by Glenn Holsten, director

Sanetta Watkins is a hopeful, inspiring, funny and fiery woman who has traveled a long road of recovery.

I first met Sanetta when I visited a remarkable place in Philadelphia called the Hollywood Beauty Salon. I wasn’t looking for a beauty salon. In fact, I was hired to create a promotional video portrait of the Germantown Recovery Community for a company called NHS Human Services. The Germantown Recovery Community is a community-integrated recovery center that serves persons with behavioral health and addiction challenges. My charge was to document a successful model of mental health care—unique to the city of Philadelphia—that combines both treatment and rehabilitation services that are individualized, choice-based, consumer-driven, family-inclusive and community-based.

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a moment from a Recovery Hair Show at the Germantown Recovery Community:
Darlene Holmes, Rachel “Hollywood” Carr, Crystal Smith and Sanetta Watkins, four pillars of the salon

In a bright, sun-filled converted candy factory (Asher’s Chocolates!) I filmed all kinds of support groups, counselors, and peer specialists. I filmed group therapy, art therapy, music therapy, lunchtime, and social time. I filmed people working in a gardening program. I even filmed in a terrific model apartment that they have for members who are seeking to learn the life skills needed for independent living. I was already impressed. At the end of a long day of filming, however, I ventured into a tiny part of the Germantown Recovery Community called the Hollywood Beauty Salon. I was more impressed.

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Sanetta braids hair at the Hollywood Beauty Salon

On that day, I spent thirty minutes with Rachel “Hollywood” Carr and Sanetta “Butterfly” Watkins, and I was riveted. I loved the intimacy of the place. Rachel’s eyelashes amazed me. When Sanetta told me her nickname was “Butterfly” I was hooked. More importantly, her words touched me. I was moved by their friendship, warmth and honesty. I learned that they have “Recovery Hair Shows” (a combination of fashion show and testimonials), and that the Hollywood Beauty Salon is a place where men and women undergoing treatment for mental illness gather to have their hair done, share stories, and support each other as they rebuild their lives.

Sanetta poses before the Recovery Hair Show starts

Sanetta poses before the Recovery Hair Show starts

I wanted to come back and make a longer documentary about the beauty salon, to show what I experienced there – that the Hollywood Beauty Salon was a place of hope and healing for people with so many challenges in their lives.

For over two years now, I have worked in creative collaboration with Germantown Recovery Community members, who imaginatively share the salon’s story and their own powerful narratives of transformation. Sanetta spoke of her transformation from cocoon to butterfly, and came up with the idea that she wanted to fly.

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Germantown Recovery Community members create beautiful background images for Sanetta’s flying scene

There are many lessons about life to be shared by people who have lived so much, but who have rarely been asked about their experience. Even more rare is the opportunity to use a creative medium like film to explore their lived experience, and portray worlds real and imagined. Sanetta’s dream of flying like a butterfly became a driving force in the production. We visited a butterfly exhibit at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and held butterflies and learned everything we could about them. Later we conducted an art workshop where members created the flowers, houses, trees and other butterflies for Sanetta’s journey. We went on a group field trip to a local costume store to select an appropriate costume for the scene, and finally, we had a big studio green-screen shoot wherein Sanetta bravely was hoisted in a harness above ground and told to “fly, fly, fly!” And fly she did. With grace and fearlessness and humor. Watch for yourself.

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Director of photography Daniel Traub captures the moment Sanetta tries on her butterfly costume

Sanetta’s Metamorphosis is just one of many stories told in this upcoming feature-length documentary about the Hollywood Beauty Salon titled, imaginatively, Hollywood Beauty Salon. This colorful and inspiring feature-length documentary is about surviving mental illness and violence, struggling with loss, finding courage for recovery, and discovering the beauty inside each one of us.

Please visit hollywoodbeautysalonmovie.com to learn more.

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