Four years after brother’s death in car wreck, SM East grad Erik Harken explores grief with film project

Erik Harken has penned the script for a short film based on his own experience losing his older brother Mark. Photo courtesy Erik Harken.

The first couple of years after his brother’s death were a blur.

Just weeks after Mark Harken was killed in a car wreck in rural Missouri in July 2014, Erik Harken started his senior year of high school at SM East. The following year he started college at the University of Kansas, where he was a member of the track-and-field team.

Mark Harken
Mark Harken was killed in July 2014 in a car wreck in rural Missouri.

The accident had come as such a immense shock to the system that he hadn’t even known where to begin processing it. Mark hadn’t been the only one who died. Clay Miller, the older brother of Erik’s best friend, had been killed in the wreck as well. The depth of the grief from those losses was greater than he had comprehended could even exist.

“I had always wanted to confront everything that happened because it took my life and rocked it so hard,” Erik said. “But that senior year of high school is already crazy and the first year of college has a whole different set of challenges. Looking back, it’s like I was so busy and driven I didn’t have the time to emotionally go there.”

But as he prepares to start his senior year at KU, Erik has undertaken a project that he hopes will provide some catharsis for the grief he carries with him — and help other bereaved people understand they’re not alone.

A film major, Erik has written the script for a short film entitled Tell My Family I Love Them that tells a story that closely mirrors his own experience. In the story, Thomas, a teenager obsessed with his own track-and-field career, is forced to reevaluate his outlook on life in the wake of his brother’s death.

Here’s the short video the production team has produced promoting the film:

Erik and director of photography Gary Lange have been collaborating on the project since last year. Lange lost his father earlier this year, and Erik said the shared loss of family members has helped them work toward a common vision for the project.

“We already had a close working relationship, but we share an understanding of what these feelings are,” Erik said.

The project will start filming early next month, and Erik hopes to have it ready to debut in film festivals, including the Kansas City FilmFest, by next spring. The team is working to raise $4,200 for the project that will go toward production expenses and well as post-production work like processing the Super8 film and recording a soundtrack. He said that he believes that after his time working with KU teachers like Kevin Willmott and Laura Kirk, he’s developed the artistic skill to tackle a project with such intense emotions.

“I want to make something that’s meaningful and impactful and shows people what these experiences are like,” he said. “I think of it every single day. In some ways it’s gotten easier because it’s not as sharp as it once was. But in some ways it gets harder because it’s sunk in that they’re never coming back. But you’re still here every day.”