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Actor/Director Steve Buscemi to Launch the 8th Season of Project UnLonely Films

As the Project's new ambassador, Steve Buscemi talks about experiencing loneliness and how the arts can help

By Michele Wojciechowski

Ever wonder if other people feel lonely like you have?

Rest assured, you're not the only one.

According to the American Psychiatric Association's latest poll, released in late January 2024, one in three people in America feel lonely every week, and 10% feel lonely every single day.

Headshot of actor Steve Buscemi. Next Avenue, UnLonely Film Festival
Steve Buscemi  |  Credit: Getty

That's precisely why The Foundation for Art & Healing (FAH) started Project UnLonely Films, a program that will begin its 8th season on June 2. More on that in a bit.

Actor and director Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire," "Fargo," "Reservoir Dogs") is the project's newest Ambassador, and there are many reasons he wanted to be a part of it.

"If people are aware of how they're feeling, then there's the possibility that they can do something about it."

"I struggled over the years with depression, anxiety, loneliness," admits Buscemi. "What interests me about Project UnLonely is that if people are aware of how they're feeling, then there's the possibility that they can do something about it. However that awareness comes, I think is important. A film or a TV show can be part of that awareness. If somebody can see themselves on screen and say, 'Oh, they're going through the same thing I'm going through that I don't really talk about — but here it is for public consumption — maybe that will give me the courage to talk about it with somebody or to do something about it and not feel like I'm so alone in this.'"

"The mission and goals of Project UnLonely are threefold," says Jeremy Nobel, founder and president of FAH, the lead of Project UnLonely Films, and a faculty member of the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and a 2020 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

"First is to increase awareness of loneliness and how challenging it can be for your health at any point in the lifespan. The second is to reduce the stigma that still surrounds loneliness, even though the pandemic increased the visibility of it. For many people, it still represents something that they may feel uncomfortable, guilty, and ashamed about, that it somehow points to their inadequacy or a flaw," says Nobel.

"The third goal is to put arts-enabled programs into the community so they can be accessed in partnership with organizations of many types including colleges, schools, libraries, museums, community centers, and even faith-based groups and health care," he adds.

Coming Together

Nobel met Buscemi for the first time at an event for Global Mental Health Day held at Harvard Medical School's Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

Two people holding up a Project UnLonely book. Next Avenue, Steve Buscemi, UnLonely Film Festival
Jeremy Nobel and Steve Buscemi  |  Credit: Courtesy of Project UnLonely

While Nobel presented on the importance of loneliness, Buscemi was asked to screen the movie "The Listener," which he directed. "The Listener" tells of Beth, played by Tessa Thompson, a helpline volunteer who works the nightshift, taking calls from people across the country who are lonely, broken and hopeless. The film also covers what she goes through, how it affects her, and how important it is for her own mental health to do things for herself.

After Nobel and Buscemi talked, Nobel says, "I got some insight into Steve's deep commitment to mental health and the power of film to tell the story of mental health and to destigmatize it."

They also had follow-up conversations and Buscemi agreed that his interest and enthusiasm about the power of film to tell important stories is really aligned with the goals of Project UnLonely Films.

Starting with Stand-up and Moving to Film

When Buscemi was first trying to break into the entertainment business, he used to perform stand-up comedy because he thought it was something he would be good at.

"But what I found was that after a while, I didn't like the aloneness of doing that. I liked sharing with an audience and having that feedback," he says. "I found that just from taking acting classes or doing little pieces of theater, that I liked [performing] with other people."


As he's gotten older, Buscemi has learned how film can influence viewers.

"I've come to realize the power of what film can do and how it touches audiences — sometimes in a truly deep way or a meaningful way, and other times purely as entertainment," he says.

"There's nothing wrong with feeling lonely even when you're in a crowd or doing an activity. I think it's a universal feeling, and it probably has more to do with feeling not understood."

What's also crucial is that he realizes what loneliness is: "It's not just a feeling that you get when you're alone. Of course, you can feel lonely just being alone, but you could also feel lonely in a group of people," Buscemi says. "That's where you can start to feel like 'What's wrong with me?' Actually, nothing is wrong with you. There's nothing wrong with feeling lonely even when you're in a crowd or doing an activity.

I think it's a universal feeling, and it probably has more to do with feeling not understood. Once you make that connection with other people — that they feel or have felt the same— it feels like it's a weight that's taken off your shoulders. It's not something that only you're going through."

He adds, "If I'm in a diner, and I hear people talking about a show or a film that they just watched, it makes me feel proud that I'm a part of that. It gives people meaning to talk about something that they've seen, that they like, that they were inspired by, or that they were entertained by."

Project UnLonely Films

According to Nobel, the Project UnLonely Films starts a new season of more than 30 films with a range of topics dealing with loneliness. On June 2, in a one-hour virtual event at 7 p.m. ET, they will present the three award-winning films as well as five honorable mentions.

You will also see Steve Buscemi talking about loneliness, films and how film can help people connect.

"No doubt, we're in challenging times now. But I think we've been through this before. Every generation and every decade has these huge challenges that sometimes can seem insurmountable or you can get a feeling of hopelessness," says Buscemi. "I think one way that people cope through all of this is through the arts."

More on Project UnLonely Films

To get a free ticket to attend the virtual kickoff of Season 8 of Project UnLonely Film, go here.

Nobel also says that all of the previous films of Project UnLonely Films can be found and watched for free on their website.

Contributor Michele Wojciechowski
Michele Wojciechowski Michele "Wojo" Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer who lives in Baltimore, Md. She's the author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They'll Carry Me Out in a Box. Reach her at Read More
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