By Jonathan Lawrence
There are a surprisingly large number of films involving mental health issues; some of them classics such as A Beautiful Mind, or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But how many of them really try to really get down and explore these issues, rather than simply use them as a plot point? The Mental Film Festival, now entering its second year in Calgary, aims to showcase the films that do explore mental illness in an effort to reduce stigma, create conversation and raise awareness.
We spoke with Rebecca Zahn, the director of marketing and communications at the Mental Film Festival, whose passion for raising awareness for these issues and creating a community dialogue was evident throughout our interview.
Zahn explained how the Mental Film Festival, despite being new to Calgary, was inspired by the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival, a mental health festival that has taken place in Toronto every year since 1993. It is also the first festival of its kind in the world and currently the largest. It was clear, though, that something similar was needed in Calgary.
She also stated that these events are both successful and important because, unlike other forms of media, film can present a realistic insight into the world of mental health in a way that other artistic platforms can’t.
“We’ve learned that when it comes to different kinds of art,” she explains, “to create behaviour change and create awareness in communities and the public, that film is actually recognized as the number one art platform to do that.”
Despite what the name might suggest, this isn’t a film festival in the typical sense of the word, as there aren’t several films on display. Instead, they have carefully chosen one film to properly examine and discuss in great detail.
“We’re really happy with [the film], called Hollywood Beauty Salon. It’s actually this really cool hybrid documentary that combines everyday sequences with… animation and fantasy [elements],” Zahn explained. “Things like that… allow the viewer to transport into the minds of people experiencing mental illness to help create an understanding and to reduce stigma.”
The director of the film reportedly spent sixteen weeks in a facility for people dealing with mental health, addiction and family violence, asking each person how they wanted their story to be told.
The goal of showing this film, Zahn stressed, was to help dispel the myths or oversimplifications about mental illnesses that are commonly portrayed in Hollywood. She noted that the people in the documentary actually have a lot of hope, and rather than having a sullen and desaturated tone, it’s “colourful and fun and inspiring…[and] about discovering the beauty inside each one of us regardless of whether we have mental health issues or not.”
That said, one of the biggest components of the Mental Film Festival is its emphasis on having a fun, open and inspirational atmosphere, rather than a morose and overly serious one. “We’re kicking off our night in a really fun way. We’re going to have a DJ at the Globe Cinema and have [three local artists’] art displayed on the walls.”
Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for people to see different kinds of art and have conversations with others that they might not ordinarily be able to. There will be mental health professionals giving a panel after the film and will be available to answer any questions people have.
In order to make sure as many people as possible can attend, there is a pay-what-you-can entrance fee and there will be an after party held at The Derrick across the street from the Globe Cinema afterward. For anyone curious about mental health and wants to end the stigma and taboo associated with it, this is an important event to attend.
Mental Film Festival takes place at the Globe Cinema on June 3.Globe Cinema, Mental Film Festival