Monterey County Weekly on ‘Buried Above Ground’ 

By Mary Duan

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalván once received some sage advice from an old sergeant of his.

“He said, ‘Smile, be nice. But always have a plan to kill everyone in the room,’” Montalván recalls.

Those words appeared in the documentary film Buried Above Ground, a riveting look at three survivors of post-traumatic stress disorder trying to exist with the mental and physical effects of the trauma they experienced. For Montalván, that trauma was the result of war. For a woman named Erundina, the trauma came from an abusive childhood and surviving domestic violence as an adult. For Ashley, the trauma resulted from barely surviving Hurricane Katrina.

Three people, three different sets of circumstances, all with the same outcome: How do you cope with what you’ve seen, done or experienced?

Filmmaker Ben Selkow spent six years following his subjects, and screened his 2015 documentary at the Carmel International Film Festival. He’s trying to change people’s mindset about trauma and, in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Selkow is bringing his film back to Monterey County for two screenings this month, which has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month. (You’ll find details of those screenings below.)

The current mindset about trauma, Selkow tells me during a phone interview while he’s wandering the streets of Brooklyn, is one of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s a secret shame that many people carry, but find they must keep hidden in order to exist.

He calls upon the ideas of journalist Sebastian Junger, himself a PTSD survivor from his many years as a war correspondent: There is a crisis of connection that needs disruption.

“These are people walking around with a secret,” Selkow says. “You have symptoms and it’s a struggle, and now you carry your secret and you’re ‘mentally ill.’

“It’s very isolating, all the shame and anger. Finding connections is something we’re really trying to promote with the film, that connections are critical to recovery.”

NAMI Monterey County is coordinating with other agencies – the Veterans Transition Center of Monterey County, the county Behavioral Health Department, Each Mind Matters, the CSU Monterey Bay Health and Wellness Center, the YWCA Monterey County and the CSUMB Veterans Services Center – for a two-day event with Selkow. One of the film’s subjects, Erundina, also will speak.

Each venue will have a resource fair featuring local services for those suffering from PTSD. The first screening takes place at 6pm, Wednesday May 11, at the Black Box Cabaret at CSUMB, and the second takes place at 6:30, Thursday May 12 at Maya Cinemas in Salinas. Both events are free (but note there’s a parking fee at CSUMB). For more information, visit

“We’re not looking to normalize the trauma, but normalize the human experience and the possibility that recovery has a lot of different forms,” Selkow says. “Showing this film, and talking about it and sharing experiences is so powerful and emotional – sometimes you just get a nod from someone or a thank you. That’s powerful enough because you they know they don’t have to go through it alone.”

Monterey Herald on ‘Buried Above Ground’

By James Herrera

Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Month, there will be free screenings of the film “Buried Above Ground,” a documentary that deals with post-traumatic stress disorder, at two locations in Monterey County this week.

Special showings of the new movie, which tracks the lives of three people trying to recover from PTSD, are scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Black Box Cabaret at CSU Monterey Bay and 6 p.m. Thursday at Maya Cinemas in Salinas.

“‘Buried Above Ground’ brings to light PTSD in a real and powerful way, helps dispel stigmas associated with trauma and allows the audience to see the humanity of those suffering from PTSD,” said Army veteran Edwin Marticorena, deputy executive director of the Veterans Transition Center of Monterey County, on the film’s website.

The film features Luis, an Iraq War veteran, along with his service dog Tuesday; Erundina, a survivor of domestic violence; and Ashley, an evacuee from Hurricane Katrina. It follows them over a six-year period as they try to unburden themselves from their past traumas. Their personal battles illuminate a global health condition that is misunderstood, under-reported and often left untreated.

The Buried Above Ground Project is a multimedia advocacy and film project that seeks to bring public awareness to PTSD, the fourth most common mental health condition in the world. It affects more than 450 million people worldwide — 8 percent of the population.

“A disproportionate amount of time is spent thinking about the past than your average person. That goes along very much with, what if the worst thing that ever happened to you, kept happening to you?” Luis says in the film.

Each screening will include a resource fair offering information on local services for those with PTSD. At the conclusion of the film, a panel discussion featuring producer/director Ben Selkow and local experts will discuss issues addressed in the movie.

“Before ‘Buried Above Ground,’ I made a film called ‘A Summer in the Cage’ about bipolar disorder that premiered on Sundance Channel. It went on to win many mental health media awards, but the most profound experiences were the numerous 200-person intimate screenings,” said Selkow in a statement on the film’s website. “Audience members courageously came forward to share their stories, ask advice and begin to find community.”

The presentations are sponsored by the Monterey County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in cooperation with several other agencies, including the Monterey County Behavioral Health Department, the Veterans Transition Center, CSUMB Health and Wellness Services, the CSUMB Veterans Services Center and the YWCA of Monterey County.

The events are made possible with funding from the California Mental Health Service Authority and the Each Mind Matters initiative in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month.

Spanish interpretation services will be available at each event.

For more information, call 831-375-6264 or visit


Univision features NAMI at Greenfield outreach event

Nuestra Enlace Familiar, Deanna Rivas, y Voluntaria de NAMI, Rosa Maria Ibarra, estuvieron en la ciudad de Greenfield anoche! Las dos presentarón información sobre la salud mental y hablarón sobre los simptomas y las señales de alerta que cada padre debería reconocer.
Our Bilingual Outreach Coordinator, Deanna Rivas, and NAMI Volunteer, Rosa Maria Ibarra, were in the city of Greenfield on March 30! Both ladies presented information on mental health and talked about signs and symptoms that every parent should know about, and they shared the information with Univision.