– by Joe Macdonald
The vision we had of our film festival was brought to life by all of the people who attended, and I personally feel really proud of what we achieved. The vision I had centred on social justice, and connecting the mental health sector to other areas of social change. There were some key themes that came out of the movies we selected for viewing, including homelessness, colonisation, the limitations of biomedical models of health, the importance of other ways of looking at “mental health,” human resilience and diversity, and the value of communities and relationships.
For me, the three films that stuck with me were the documentaries Gordonia, Intersexion, and Crooked Beauty. Gordonia painted a poignant picture of what happens when the system fails us, and how easily people fall through the cracks when the system is not set up to support them. Homelessness does not happen in a vacuum. It is connected to colonisation and alienation from the land, and from our families and our ancestry. When we have no space to call home, how do we know who we are? Why do we hide the parts of society that scare us? Is it because we don’t want to see the truth, because we don’t want our hearts broken?
The power of documentary reminded me that these are real people (Graham Gordon and his tenants) whose lives were torn apart by the failure of public health systems and council bureaucracies. The strength of these people stayed with me long after the film finished, as did the sadness of watching the health and administration systems consistently fall short.
Similarly, Intersexion revealed the obstinacy of the medical institution, in refusing to listen to what adult intersex people are telling them: invasive genital surgeries on infants is damaging for the person at hand and their families. The film was narrated by Mani Mitchell, intersex activist, who travelled around the world interviewing other intersex people and hearing their stories of pain and triumph.
While neither of these films directly talked about “mental health” it was clear that there were significant overlaps with the struggle towards self-determination, finding a place to be oneself, and challenging the bio-medical model of health and illness.
When an intersex child is born, even when there are no health risks at all, the common practice (in NZ and elsewhere) is to immediately perform invasive genital surgeries to ensure the child looks “normal.” The family is not given enough support or resources to know how to deal with the situation and the whole experience is shrouded in secrecy and shame. This obviously affects the mental health and wellbeing of intersex people growing up. It also illustrates how the medical model (eg surgery) is deployed against the diversity that actually exists: there are people in the world that are not male or female, and instead of recognising this, we force babies to conform to the physical form of one or the other.
Why can we not restrain ourselves from early non-consensual interventions, and wait until the child indicates who they are and what their gender is? Why do we inflict a narrow vision of what it means to be human on the infants who are demonstrating the diversity that actually exists?
The unresponsiveness of the medical paradigm when faced with diversity connects to the movie Crooked Beauty, which charted the space between brilliance and madness through the journey of Jacks McNamara. How are we supposed to make sense of our experiences if we are simply told that we have an illness and must take this medication? How can we increase awareness about the huge range of experiences we have, as mental health consumers or humans or tangata whaiora?
Crooked Beauty also pointed towards art, creativity, and writing as ways of navigating this territory, both personally and politically. Mani Mitchell, in Intersexion, talked about the significance of imagery, about how we want to see ourselves reflected and visually represented in photography or film. The panel discussion on Saturday continued these themes. I enjoyed facilitating the panel discussion immensely, and I thank our panellists and audience members for making it such a rousing and passionate discussion.
I hope attendees of our film festival found something memorable to take away with them, as I did, and I hope it got us thinking about how all of these issues are related. We need to work together to create social change, to make a world that is less hostile to difference, and a medical model that appreciates and respects diversity.
Review – Panel Discussion
– by Campbell Larsen
The final day of the Changing Minds film festival culminated in a panel discussion featuring the very knowledgeable and insightful, Jim Marbrook, Kirsty MacDonald, Mark Sweeney and Dr Dean Manly.
The conversational format was embraced by the audience and the discussion was wide ranging. Jim Marbrook shared a little of the creative process employed in Mental Notes, in particular the role of the Narrator and the conveyance of authenticity. The films first person perspective was a very effective vehicle for the message of the film, helping to convey the highly personal experiences of the participants with immediacy and sensitivity. When viewing the final cut it is difficult to see how the film could have been any other way, which is perhaps the ultimate affirmation of the decision to allow the participants to be both subject and storytellers.
Kirsty MacDonald spoke on the ethics of film making, and how to approach subject material which is highly personal and revealing. The rapport between the film maker and the subject is one which is essentially based on trust. She spoke of the responsibility that she feels to protect her subjects and the unused footage which remains in her archive. A sense of gratitude was also evident form her, with the acknowledgement of the essential contribution of the participants to the partnership between those in front of the camera and the film maker behind it.
Mark Sweeney’s experience with and belief in the film archive clearly came across. It was reassuring to hear that The Film Archives approach was underpinned by a commitment to the same principles of sensitivity and protection of privacy that were expressed by the documentary makers themselves.
Dr Dean Manly introduced to the discussion the use of sensory modulation, highlighting the importance of environments and how people are treated. Referring to the health spa’s employed by the wealthy as a means of maintaining wellbeing he compared this with the environments and treatment often endured by those in residential treatment settings. The gulf between the two is vast and yet is an obvious starting point when seeking to improve outcomes. The notion of comfort and relaxing environments does not come without cost and investment however this pales into insignificance when placed alongside the cost of extended, perhaps even lifelong pharmaceutical, and other interventions. Recognition of the need to improve environments for people in distress is gradually gaining traction and given the context of Mental Notes it is clear that such evolutions are a path that has only just been embarked upon.
The panel discussion was captured on video, which is currently being edited, so rather than relying on the brief outline above please do download the full discussion when it becomes available in early 2013. We would like to thank all the members of the panel and indeed the audience for a most informative and interesting afternoon.