Like minds

Chance encounter leads to film preview at Tufts

When Emmy award-winning actor Joe Pantoliano sat next to Richard Lerner, professor of child development at Tufts, at a football game last fall, the two talked and realized they share a common interest—the effects of mental illness on a family. Pantoliano’s interest came through a new film he stars in called “Canvas,” and Lerner’s from his scholarship in youth development issues as the Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development.

Joe Pantoliano at the 21st annual Fort Lauderdale Film Festival in November © GUSTAVO CABALLERO/GETTY IMAGES

That chance encounter led to the Creative Coalition, the entertainment industry’s nonprofit political advocacy organization, selecting Tufts University as a location to host a special preview screening on January 28 of “Canvas,” which stars Academy Award-winner Marcia Gay Harden (“Mystic River,” “Pollock”) and Pantoliano, known for his work on the TV show “The Sopranos” as well as “The Matrix.” To be released to the general public later this year, “Canvas” tells the story of a family dealing with a mother’s decline into mental illness. Harden plays the schizophrenic mother of a young boy, and Pantoliano plays her husband. Joseph Greco directs.

“Canvas” already has garnered top reviews in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and received the 2006 Audience Award for Best Feature Film and the 2006 Jury Award for the best dramatic performance in an American indie at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has compared the film to the Oscar winner “A Beautiful Mind,” which starred Russell Crowe and explores Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash’s battle with schizophrenia.

“As co-president of the Creative Coalition, I am always looking for ways to increase awareness of mental illness,” said Pantoliano, who also was a producer of the film. “After learning how Tufts University has impressive strengths in psychiatry, psychology and child development, I thought it would be an appropriate place to hold an advanced screening and to lead a discussion about the important message of this film.”

The Creative Coalition was founded in 1989 by prominent figures in the creative community, including actors Alec Baldwin, Ron Silver, Christopher Reeve, Susan Sarandon, Blair Brown and Stephen Collins. For more information about the organization, visit