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Filmmaker, Survivor, ‘Messenger of Hope’ Becomes New Give an Hour Ambassador 

By July 9, 2022August 11th, 2022Blog

The chorus from “Don’t Give Up“ by Peter Gabriel could – quite literally – be Eric Christiansen’s anthem.   

Eric Christiansen, Give an Hour AmbassadorYou see, on June 27, 1990, Eric was one of many to lose his home to the Painted Cave Fire that burned in the Santa Ynez Mountains and in the city of Santa Barbara in California. Eric lost all of his material belongings. But he made it out alive. Although he didn’t realize it then, this would be a pivotal time for Eric and would change his life forever.  

Eric is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts (and is a proud, card-carrying member of the Cal Arts Mafia) and was a filmmaker from a young age. He always knew he had a message to share but didn’t realize how cathartic it might be to tell his own story through others who experienced the same tragedy. In the months following the devastating fire, Eric did just that. He interviewed about a dozen Painted Cave Fire survivors and made a documentary, “Faces in the Fire,” that premiered on the first anniversary of that fateful day.  

And this is where Eric began learning how to heal. Telling and sharing these stories encouraged healing for more than just Eric. It was healing for the people in the film and for the communities connected to the tragedy. So much so that the National Institute of Mental Health included it in their catalog so others could benefit. Not only that, but the film also earned Eric his first Emmy award.  

Passion with a Purpose

Quote by Eric Christiansen

It was then Eric realized he was on to something. He unearthed a passion for sharing the stories of people who survived unimaginable traumas, their journeys and, most importantly, their paths to hope and healing. The documentary “Homecoming: A Vietnam Vets Journey” followed in 2002 and “Searching for Home: Coming Back from War” was released in 2015. 

Eric believes he has a responsibility as a filmmaker to have an outreach partner with “boots on the ground” who can offer resources and provide a safety net for those who may need it. “If my documentaries are going to stir the pot emotionally,” said Eric, “I have a responsibility to connect participants and viewers with organizations who can direct and assist people on their healing path.” 

Something Eric learned through each of his films is that there is no quantifying trauma and he believes we all heal the same. He is fascinated by the mask each of us wears every day to hide our pain.  

Healing through HOPE

Which brings us to Eric’s most recent film, “unMASKing HOPE,” and how he became acquainted with Give an Hour. This documentary is the story of grief and recovery of a diverse group of trauma survivors who don masks to hide spiritual and emotional pain. Film participants include people who have survived mass shootings, active military combat, sexual assault and terrorist attacks. Their individual journeys illustrate how they followed different, yet similar, paths and share messages of hope, healing and inspiration. 

Eric’s confidence in Give an Hour and its commitment to healing is obvious from the many outreach efforts connected to the film. From topical and relevant webinars that address trauma to the resources page on the documentary website. He has it right when he says Give an Hour fills a niche because that’s a principal objective of the organization – to offer mental health care services to people in need who might not otherwise have access.  

Both Eric and Give an Hour place great emphasis on the power of healing and of connecting people. As an ambassador, Eric looks forward to not only sharing his story but becoming an active participant with Give an Hour and hopes the relationship is a synergistic one for both parties.  

Part of Eric’s own mental health journey includes daily meditation and accountability. He enjoys sending a reading from his daily practice to his small group along with a note about what he learned. He is also a big believer in mentorship. Both personally and professionally. Eric says it is important to learn from someone who has been where you are and has experienced some of the same challenges. Likewise, it’s equally important to pass on your knowledge to those who follow. 

When asked about his relationship with Give an Hour, Eric said, “We’re all just trying to touch souls and bring about healing.”