The inspirational story of a woman who survived 14 suicide attempts then put herself through film school to break the silence around mental illness is being turned into a big-screen documentary.

The Silence Film will focus on Voices of Hope co-founder Jazz Thornton's determination to have the conversation about suicide she knows many are scared to have.

"Having struggled with severe mental illness myself and after trying to take my life 14 times I know what it is to lose hope," said the 23-year-old.

"I think that is why people relate to my story - not just because of the events, but because I understand the mindsets and struggles that come alongside it. But I also know what it is to find hope, to fight and live in complete freedom."

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Directed by award-winning Kiwi film-maker Leanne Pooley, the documentary will showcase Thornton's advocacy work here, in Australia and in the US.

The cameras will capture her meeting Hollywood names including Pretty Little Liars actors Troiean Bellisario and Lulu Brud.

Thornton said it would be the first time she had told her full story.

She enrolled in South Seas Film and Television School in 2016 to learn how to tell the stories of young people like her who have suffered from depression and been suicidal.

She had been there only a few months when she created a short film called Dear Suicidal Me.

It features people, including Thornton, who have tried to end their life, some multiple times. They were filmed reading their real suicide notes and then - crucially - the reasons they feel lucky to be still alive.

Dear Suicidal Me has had more than 80 million views after being covered by international media.

"It was the starting point of my directing career, I knew that I had the ability to share these messages in a way that compelled people and provided hope." said Thornton.

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She is still making videos for Voices of Hope, the non-profit organisation she launched in 2016 with Genevieve Mora.

Thornton is also making a web series that fulfils a promise she made more than three years ago to a friend who committed suicide.

She promised to tell her friend's story so people could better understand the struggles of people with depression.

Thornton said she's "very much" used to being behind the camera and being followed by a documentary crew has taken getting used to.

"It's nerve-wracking knowing your entire life is about to be out in this film. You get used to having the cameras there all the time but I'm slowly learning how to adapt."

The Silence Film has funding from the New Zealand Film Commission. Part of the money will be spent on a plan to protect the mental health of everyone involved.

Thornton said her over-riding emotions were excitement and optimism.

"I'm starting to become aware of the kind of engagement this could create globally, in terms of funding and government policy. It's a message of hope that changed will be activated."

Work on the project started in 2017.

"Just over a year ago I stood in front of a large industry panel as a film school student to pitch my idea for a web series based on the subject of suicide," said Thornton.

"I ended up winning the pitch and one of the first comments from the panel was 'this needs to be a film'."

That led to a meeting with Pooley.

"Within five minutes of her sitting down she said, 'I know exactly what this film is ... it's you'," said Thornton.

New Zealand has the worst suicide rate among teenagers in the developed world. The rate of 15.6 suicides per 100,000 people is twice as high as the US rate and almost five times that of Britain's.

Pooley, who told the stories of Sir Edmund Hillary in Beyond the Edge and the Topp Twins in Untouchable Girls, said she had a strong personal link to the subject.

"I've made many documentaries in my 20-odd years as a film-maker but few have been as close to my heart as this one. I lost my brother to suicide and like many people I struggle to understand why. I'm hoping this film will help me answer that question while it helps prevent others from having to ask it.

"Jazz is a force of nature and working with her as she wrestles with a subject so personal and so universal is something I feel very privileged to be part of."

Thornton made worldwide headlines in May after posting a letter to Facebook thanking the police officer who rescued her from her 14th suicide attempt three years earlier.

She told how Constable Meika Campbell had found her, saved her and spent 25 minutes in the police car offering encouraging words.

Thornton explained how Campbell sat with her at the hospital, well into the night.

"Eventually you had to leave and you grabbed my phone, dialling in your work number saying, 'I want you to text me tomorrow and tell me you are okay. I believe in you. You can do this. You need to make it to your 21st birthday and if you can do that for me, I will come and find you on that day to say happy birthday'.

"On my 21st birthday [Constable Campbell] knocked at my door and I was like 'what the heck'," she said.

"By this stage, I had forgotten of [her] promise - but [she] hadn't. [She] came to my house and knocked on my door just to say Happy Birthday. To celebrate the fact I was still alive and fighting.

"It meant the world to me and it meant the world that she believed that I could do it even when I didn't believe myself."

Thornton said that moment was the starting point for everything she is doing now. A few months later she and Mora launched Voices of Hope.

"We both had our mental health battles, Genevieve had eating disorders and OCD, so we had varying experiences and wanted to use our stories to help others," said Thornton.

"We wanted to be the people that we needed when we were going through that and to show people no matter what you are going through, it is possible to get through."

Thornton's web series will be released through NZME, publisher of the New Zealand Herald, next March.

The Silence Film is being co-produced by Augusto's Cass Avery, producer of Richie McCaw doco Chasing Great, and Bloom Pictures' Alex Reed, co-producer of The Women of Pike River documentary. It is being distributed by Rialto for release in September 2019.

• For more information about Voices of Hope, visit: http://www.thevoicesofhope.org


Where to get help:


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

Or if you need to talk to someone else:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254.