LONDONDERRY - During his days at Londonderry High School, Casey LaMarca was a drama student with big dreams - dreams that would lead to the launch of his own film-production company. What LaMarca didn't see at the time was a looming nightmare: the accumulation of debt brought on by student loans.
Like many recent college graduates, LaMarca now finds himself confronting that nightmare, in both the struggles he continues to endure with his family and in "Debt U," the documentary he's working on with his brother, Ryan, co-founder of their Brooklyn-based LaMarcable Productions.
"I was never told in high school that if I attended the school of my dreams, my family would be forced to sell the home we lived in for 16 years," Casey LaMarca, 24, said. "All you're told growing up is to get good grades, work hard and later on you'll get a job that could pay (loans) back. I bought into that."
Intended to be a full-length feature, "Debt U" tackles the topic of the nation's student-loan system, which Casey LaMarca says is deeply flawed.
When he entered Emerson College in 2006, Casey said, he and his parents took out $150,000 in student loans. Ryan, now 27, earlier had signed on for $100,000 in loans.
"I went to one of the most expensive schools in the country with no financial aid whatsoever," Casey said. "Signing up for my loans was that one financial moment that stays with me because it's almost a cruel joke to be reminded that at one point my family could afford those loans."
Reality hit hard after graduation, when, degree in hand, Casey found himself unable to make his $1,500 monthly loan payments. His parents, Charles and Mary LaMarca, tried to help shoulder the burden, but ended up being forced to sell their Crosby Lane home, which they shared with Mary's parents.
"I saw the same thing was happening to my brother and his friends," Casey said. "Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: My family had to sell their home. For me, this was the last straw, so I picked up my camera and started filming."
LaMarca's parents and grandparents still reside in Londonderry, but in a much smaller home in a retirement community.
"What we've endured because of my brother's and my education is the real loss," Casey said. "I never thought that my grandparents, the patriarchs of my entire family, would have to be searching for houses when they should be enjoying their retirement."
It didn't take much research for the LaMarca brothers to realize they were far from alone. What they discovered were stories of college graduates unable to pay off loans due to the inability to find adequately paying jobs, of parents having their own wages garnished as co-signers of loans, and of lenders selling off the loans to avoid debt forgiveness.
To fund their film, the LaMarca brothers, along with fellow Londonderry High graduate and co-producer Sara DeViney, 22, are seeking donations through the online fundraising site Kickstarter.com. With a budget of $40,000 and a deadline of July 15 to keep the project going, they've raised about $4,000 online - leaving them with not much time to raise a good amount of money.
If they succeed, "Debt U" will be released sometime next year. Several local theaters, including O'neil Cinemas in Londonderry and Epping, have committed to screenings. Ultimately, Casey LaMarca said, he and his co-producers hope the film goes to "Sundance and beyond," in reference to the renowned independent film festival.
"This is not the Casey LaMarca story, but mine is just one example of what is going on in this country and how lives are being destroyed by student loans," he said. "It is a plague. And it has to be stopped."
For more information or to help sponsor the project, go to the "Debt U" kickstarter page by clicking here.