A typical day for today’s high school student may consist of taking a test, going to a basketball practice, and then completing his or her homework for the next day. However, for one Walpole High student, a normal day included going through 30 minutes of special effects makeup, working alongside Johnny Depp, and walking around the set of his own Hollywood film, all in the final months of his battle against a rare form of cancer.
On Sunday, January 29, approximately six months he was diagnosed with the terminal illness, Walpole High sophomore Anthony Conti peacefully died at his home in the afternoon.
In the months leading up to his passing, Anthony Conti did not let his illness consume his life; in fact, Anthony worked with countless professional actors, directors, and producers through the Make A Film Foundation in order to make his dream of creating an original Hollywood film come true.
In the early summer days of 2016, Anthony Conti was enrolled in Walpole’s summer film course run by Walpole Film Festival director Michael Alan, where he worked on small film projects. During the second week of the course, however, Anthony received shocking news: he was diagnosed with adrenal cortical carcinoma, a rare disease caused by a cancerous growth in the adrenal gland.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Anthony contacted the Make A Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps children with serious medical conditions create their own original films.
“He reached out to them and kept sending them correspondents on what he wants to do and his ideas for a script,” said Walpole High counselor Keith Wick.
Within no time, Anthony started working with acclaimed film writer Scott Kosar through the foundation to create his own screenplay, the first step in what became a large scale production of his very own movie.
“They got to know him, and it took off from there,” said Wick.
In the following months, Anthony began acting in and directing “The Black Ghiandola,” with dozens of professionals in the film industry.
“We have had a large list of cast and crew members, and the movie was directed by three talented people: Ted Melfi, Catherine Hardwicke, and an inspiration to me, Sam Raimi,” said Anthony in December of 2016. “Just to see him working on set was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Anthony’s passion for film began in his childhood.
“When I was nine or ten, I enjoyed the acting, and then began enjoying the other sides of film making, and being on the other side of the camera,” said Anthony. “I like entertaining people, and I guess film making was the best way to get that across.”
Although Anthony did not get to see his final project, he was involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process. Anthony’s movie is now in the editing process, where he worked with Hollywood editors as well as an award winning music composer, Trent Reznor, who has created music scores for films including The Social Network and Gone Girl.
The title of the movie, “The Black Ghiandola,” had special meaning to Anthony.
“Ghiandola is Italian for adrenal gland, which is where my illness is,” said Anthony. “There is deep meaning in the script, it is not just a horror film; it is a metaphor for my condition, and I think that’s the best part.”
Anthony also hoped to inspire others with his short film.
“I want other people to hear about this, and I want other kids going through hard times to find Make A Film, or find a way to get their dreams expressed,” Anthony said. “It has given me motivation and it’s provided me an outlet for my creativity, to not only get mind off my situation, but to have a large-scale project that you’re a part of.”
Before his passing, Anthony was determined to continue working towards his dream career as a filmmaker.
“I still love to act, and I do hope to eventually pursue acting and filmmaking, of course I do not know where I will be at the end of my treatment,” said Anthony. “But I know I would even be a custodian on a film set if I could. Filmmaking is something you can’t get bored of, and it is one job that I don’t care if I get paid for or not.”
Throughout his treatment, Anthony expressed gratitude for the support from Make A Film, as well as his family, friends, and even the Walpole High Film Department, which used its annual fundraiser, known as the Turkey Shoot, to showcase some of Anthony’s original short films, and even raise money for the Make A Film Foundation.
“Anthony is a character,” said Michael Alan. “Very funny, but also very interested in film, and he did a great job editing film during the first week of our summer course.”
“The Black Ghiandola” will be finished in the coming months, and it will be The Make A Film Foundation’s fourth large scale project.
“The support and love that I have gotten from every single member of the Make A Film Foundation is incredible,” said Anthony. “The fact that they could give me a chance to help me achieve my dream has been such a life changing experience, and I can not thank them enough for that.”
Since Anthony’s recent passing, Walpole High and the Walpole community mourn the loss of a passionate filmmaker and inspiring adolescent.
“Anthony was someone who was born to be in front of the camera. His charisma and passion to entertain was infectious,” said Walpole High nurse Rachel Jackson. “Following his diagnosis, the WHS community rallied around him with kindness, compassion and prayers. I hope that Anthony’s journey has inspired others to not only appreciate film and the arts more but also to encourage others to show someone kindness just because.”
Services for Anthony include a wake, which will be held at Delaney’s Funeral Home in Walpole on Thursday, February 2 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. In addition, Blessed Sacrament Church in Walpole will hold a mass of remembrance at 1 p.m. on Friday, February 3.
Photos/ GoodLuck Road Photography by Jenna Hagel