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Northeastern graduate and cancer survivor channels her experience to produce first feature film

Catherine Argyrople’s film, “Growing Pains,” is about two best friends coming of age and premieres at the Boston International Film Festival.

Two young girls laying on a bed looking at a magazine together.
“Growing Pains” follows childhood friends Zoe, portrayed by Molly Morneweck, left, and Nat, played by Deanna Tarraza, who face a tumultuous transition from middle to high school. Courtesy Photo

When Catherine Argyrople, a 2021 Northeastern University graduate, was 4 years old, she found herself spending a lot of time at the Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. 

She was diagnosed with Stage 3 neuroblastoma, a type of early childhood cancer that develops in immature nerve cells called neuroblasts and often starts in the abdomen.

She didn’t fully understand what was going on at that age, Argyrople says, but being a cancer survivor has deeply affected her and has become a part of her identity.

“When you have a really complicated case, you have to get seen for life and make sure everything’s OK,” she says.

Argyrople says she dealt a lot with the aftermath of surviving cancer as a teenager, often struggling with her mental health and body image.

Argyrople’s personal experience provided the basis for her first full-feature film, “Growing Pains,” which premieres at the Boston International Film Festival on Sunday. The film touches upon such topics, Argyrople says, as friendship, identity, sexuality and the aftermath of surviving cancer. 

Headshot of Catherine Argyrople.
Northeastern graduate Catherine Argyrople’s debut feature film, “Growing Pains,” is a semi-autobiographical real and raw coming-of-age story about identity, sexuality and the aftermath of surviving cancer. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

“It’s very exciting that it was chosen for the Boston International Film Festival,” says Michelle Carr, who teaches television field production, studio production and audio production at Northeastern, and acted as an assistant producer on the film. “The festival circuit in itself is a very difficult thing to navigate. You have to apply to hundreds and hundreds of film festivals with the hope of just getting picked for one.”

“Growing Pains” is a raw and vulnerable film, Argyrople says, a coming-of-age drama about two best friends drifting apart in the summer before high school. 

“A big theme of the film is you don’t really know what someone is going through unless they tell you,” Argyrople says. “So you should always be kind and receptive to that.” 

The movie also provides social commentary on school sports and the vulnerability of athletes to mental health struggles and eating disorders.

Argyrople started writing the screenplay in 2021 during her last semester at Northeastern, where she studied media and screen studies in the College of Arts, Media and Design. 

In order to develop a second authentic protagonist, she found a writing partner, Mariana Fabian, a graduate student at University of North Carolina. Fabian grew up in the South and came out to her close-knit Hispanic family as a lesbian.

“I thought that the characters were very human, and I thought that the connection between the two main characters was something very special,” says Carr, who read the script before committing to the project.

“It’s very unique to have two different perspectives of two different people growing up in two different ways, but being able to intercut those stories,” Carr says. “Sometimes when it comes to storylines for films, it’s either just a LatinX film or just kind of a mainstream film.”

The movie industry is a tough, cut-throat business, Carr says, and it takes drive and ambition to push through and not give up.

Argyrople created an opportunity for herself on her own, Carr says.

Argyrople raised money for the production in addition to receiving four grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. But the majority of the money, she says, came from savings that she had been planning to use for graduate school.

The pre-production and production of the movie, Argyrople says, became her full-time job. She directed the film, cast actors, looked for filming locations and managed finances. 

“I could never have made my first feature anywhere else but Massachusetts,” says Argyrople, who grew up in Weston, a suburb of Boston. “I really relied on my community to make a film.”

She found the lead actors through her high school, filmed some scenes at a restaurant she used to work at as a teenager, and recruited some of her friends and former classmates at Northeastern for various positions on the crew. 

“Growing Pains,” Argyrople says, is a female-centered story made by women. About 80% of the cast and crew were women or non-binary people, she says, including the director, producer and cinematographer.

Using predominantly female crew, Argyrople says, translates on screen into delicate and not sensationalized portrayals during sensitive scenes.

“It was from the female lens and the female gaze versus the male lens and male gaze,” she says. “This is also why I think women should be the ones telling stories about women, especially young women.” 

She also made it a point to authentically cast teenagers to play teenagers.

“A lot of times in film and television, they cast adults who might even be in their 30s to play teens,” she says. “And I think that’s really inauthentic and can create really harmful representations sometimes.” 

Besides a degree in media and screen studies, Argyrople also studied media production and entrepreneurship at Northeastern.

“My time at Northeastern was really when I honed my craft and decided to transition from a videographer and a photographer to a filmmaker,” she says. 

A lot of people tried to sway her from making a feature, Argyrople says, doubting her abilities.

“Those people don’t really know me at my core,” she says. “I’m a very resilient, strong person.”

Now she is excited to have the world premiere of her film at the Boston International Film Festival.

“This will be my first time watching the film in a theater and with an audience,” she says. “I’m curious to see the reception, for sure.”

A community premiere of “Growing Pains” will take place at the Somerville Theatre at 6 p.m. on April 16.