New de Rezendes documentary shows fierce kindness

New de Rezendes documentary shows fierce kindness

The movie poster for a short documentary produced by Slatersville-based director Christian de Rezendes titled “Fueling Fierce: The Shannon Heil Story.”

NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s a story of resilience, a tale of how one father chose to honor his daughter’s unique and inspirational life as a way to help those close to her cope with her tragic death.

It will be told in four parts by North Smithfield-based director Christian de Rezendes, the first of which, released last month, reached some 8,600 people in just two weeks.

Known for her bright red hair, her talent at competitive cheerleading and her sarcastic, edgy, creative and “fierce” personality, Shannon Heil was just 18-years-old when she was killed in a car accident on Route 102 in Burrillville in July of 2013. “Fueling Fierce: The Shannon Heil Story,” tells the story of the young girl’s life, and how efforts to honor her passing with acts of kindness have turned into an international movement.

The first 13-minute piece of the documentary, now available online, begins with a dramatic account by father Brian Heil of his experience learning of his daughter’s death.

“It was actually in that moment standing on that roadway that I sort of made a decision,” the elder Heil explains.

Heil created the Fierce for Shannon Foundation that year, launching a 5K road race in Lincoln. And on the one year anniversary of her death, he scripted a pay it forward campaign dubbed “Share for Shannon” calling on her friends and others to do “something amazing” for someone else in her honor. Heil himself honored the first responders from the accident with a breakfast.

Heil said his hope is to get people to inspire and invest in humanity.

A graduate of Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center and Toni and Guy Hairdressing Academy, Shannon was both passionate and kind, according to her father.

“It’s what she did every day,” he said of his late daughter. “Shannon was about relationships. Shannon was about investing in people’s lives.”

The short film documents Heil’s mission to inspire, and how acts of kindness – complimented with a “Share for Shannon” coupon to pass along – can quickly become contagious.

“I think our sphere of influence is a lot greater than we could ever think,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot sometimes to get people to change their perspective.”

For the past two years, Heil and a group of Shannon’s friends have invaded Brigado’s Fresh Market in North Smithfield during the holiday season, surprising more than a dozen shoppers by purchasing their groceries.

On the Share for Shannon Facebook page, which has more than 3,000 followers, one recipient vowed to take the kind gesture to heart.

“The concept of paying if forward to honor the memory of Shannon is great,” said Debra Weatherbee Connors. “It’s nice to know there are still caring people nowadays. I too lost someone special.”

“I will be passing along the coupon and paying it forward in memory of Shannon,” Connors wrote.

Heil says the message is among countless he’s received from those inspired by the movement and his daughter’s memory. He also points to the strange links between people and relationships created through much of the foundation’s work, such as a woman who recently found a long-lost relative through one of his Facebook posts.

“There’s the story of Shannon, but there’s these other things that seem to be happening below that,” Heil said.

“It’s just a sense I have there’s always a bigger picture. I don’t believe in coincidences.”

“It was important to give God credit in terms of how I’ve kind of walked through this,” he added.

Heil had previously met de Rezendes and said he looked at his previous films. The Slatersville-based director and his company Breaking Branches Pictures have garnered some acclaim with work such as “Raising Matty Christian,” a documentary profiling the life of a Canton, Mass., man born without limbs or a tongue, and “41” the story of the youngest of the 100 victims killed in the The Station Nightclub fire in 2003.

“I went to Christian and said ‘I’d love to do a film series,’” said Heil. “He’s a storyteller and for me it’s important to be able to tell a good story and be accurate.”

In an online post about the film de Rezendes notes, “Since 2010 I have become friends with Shannon’s father, Brian Heil. He is a person of great strength and character, which you will see in this film. Finding the time was a real challenge, but I am honored to have had the opportunity to create this short doc with Brian about Shannon, who I never met.”

Heil says the second part of the documentary will focus on the foundation and what it has accomplished, while other segments will feature a piece on first-responders, as well as Shannon’s legacy. Some of the original plans for the series, he notes, were melded together due to the timing of the first release.

“We wanted a piece to come out around the holidays that motivated people to give back,” Heil said.

A special screening of “Fueling Fierce: The Shannon Heil Story” will be held today, Thursday, Jan. 5, as part of Rhodywood’s Short Film Showcase at the Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House in Providence. Tickets cost $5 for the 7 p.m. show.

For Heil, it is one more way to reach people with his message.

“You never know who you’re reaching out to,” he said. “I think there’s so much good stuff that could happen from all of this. It’s what I want to do with this foundation: inspire people to do things differently, to act differently and to do things for others.”