In honour of World Mental Health Day (10 October), Richard Warden (Middlefish Films) offers a list of documentaries that take a personal, intimate approach to mental heath issues:
During my first few years of programming mental health-related film, I was most struck by the bravery of documentary directors who confront difficult issues within their families, and the power of their work to move and challenge me. Valued memories of that time include hosting many of the filmmakers in post-screening discussions. Having just witnessed honesty and vulnerability demonstrated on the big screen, many audience members felt compelled to offer relevant and remarkably poignant stories from their own lives, and I had a strong sense that others in attendance were similarly affected. Also, I felt that the creators of these very personal, and often painful, cinematic explorations were ultimately better off for having undertaken them: among other wonderful things, filmmaking as a rather complex and demanding form of therapy.
The task of providing a World Mental Health Day playlist has me hearkening back to those profound early experiences that continue to influence my work. I am delighted to provide viewing links; I only wish that I could also give access to those past discussions! However, I trust that all of the highlighted titles will speak for themselves as generous visions.
A FAMILY AFFAIR (Tom Fassaert, 2015)
Contrasting legacies of physical and emotional abandonment are evident in the sons of Marianne Hertz, a wily 95-year-old whose filmmaker grandson seeks to understand her malign influence. Director Tom Fassaert travels from the Netherlands to Marianne’s home in South Africa, where he is urged towards unimaginable entanglement. Fassaert’s perceptive study of intergenerational trauma is both emotionally draining and completely absorbing.
THE CLOSER WE GET (Karen Guthrie, 2015)
Delving into one astounding story sets the stage for another even more surprising one in Karen Guthrie’s exploration of her parents’ intensely complicated relationship. The implications of a devastating stroke are probed with insight and sensitivity – Guthrie plays an important role in her mother’s care while deftly maintaining directorial perspective. Searching questions emerge on the range of possibilities to be found in notions of commitment and forgiveness.
Available on Vimeo:
FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED (Alan Berliner, 2012)
A relative whom the director sees as a mentor is living with Alzheimer’s disease, but capturing its progress is only one aspect of Alan Berliner’s layered examination of Edwin Honig and memory, filmed over the course of five years. Honig is revealed to be not only the poet Berliner admired, but also someone other than the filmmaker had expected. When asked what he would want to say to the world via the documentary, Honig replies, “Remember how to forget.”
Available on HBO and Amazon Prime (US only)
HERE ONE DAY (Kathy Leichter, 2012)
16 years after the discovery of voice recordings her mother had made, Kathy Leichter finally listens to their contents. Although it is no secret that Nina Leichter’s life with bipolar disorder had its difficulties before she took her own life, the audiotapes bring a new and heart-wrenching level of knowledge. Kathy consults with friends and family in the hope of understanding not only Nina’s last act, but also its impact for those left behind.
Available on Vimeo:
MØDET MED MIN FAR KASPER HØJHAT / MEETING MY FATHER KASPER TOPHAT (Lea Glob, 2011)
Lea Glob’s National Film School of Denmark graduation piece is a measured investigation that builds to a subtle yet devastating climax. Inventively constructing a portrait of the deceased father she had not seen since early childhood with biographical and material fragments from his troubled life, Glob is intent on connection. The film serves as a record of that effort while creating an additional level of tangibility for an existence that had previously seemed disconcertingly ethereal.
Available on Vimeo:
STORIES WE TELL (Sarah Polley, 2012)
Celebrated for its allusive weave of storytelling techniques, Sarah Polley’s complex conjuring of the mother she lost at the age of 11 also addresses questions concerning the director’s male parentage. Polley seeks to replace longstanding rumours about her paternity with fact. In the process, she discovers truths that are far more important.
Richard Warden (Middlefish Films) worked as Film Curator for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and as Festival Producer and Programmer for Document Human Rights Film Festival. Currently, he is studying counselling and researching mental health-related documentary with the intention of productively intertwining the two pursuits.