Mental Filmness 2023 News: Submissions Opening In January

Keep an eye on this pin for developments on Mental Filmness 2023. The big one is, it’s happening, and it’s Number Five. The other is that just as usual you may submit your film through Filmfreeway here: https://filmfreeway.com/MentalFilmness. Also, just as last year, it will be a hybrid festival. Selection of your film will ensure a place in the virtual festival should you accept it; live screenings in Chicago will depend on resources and circumstances and will be determined.

We are also working to do something that is long overdue, which is building partnerships within the Chicago mental health community. We hope to draw a wider audience to connect with these incredible films, and we also hope to make audiences aware of community mental health resources. We already have a couple of exciting possibilities coming down the pipeline, so stay tuned for those developments.

We hope to make Mental Filmness (5) a huge success! Putting on a film festival is a labor of love. Enough love comes back that it usually seems worth it.

5000 Blankets – The Intersection of Mental Health and Homelessness: Juniper Center Live Virtual Talk @ 9:30 a.m. Central time

If you can find time on a Friday morning, you really should attend this Juniper Center live talk at 9:30 a.m. Central time! Doug Shaffer is a very kind soul who produced this moving and very relevant film, 5000 Blankets, inspired by the true story of a family coping with mental illness and how it led them to helping communities experiencing homelessness. You just might see it at a future Mental Filmness event!

Bipolar Lens: Superman 3

My brain went on one of those fun, weird tangents yesterday when I happened to see someone online mention that as a child they were terrified by the “robot” in Superman 3. I hadn’t thought of it in years and years, but their mention of it brought some long-repressed childhood horror freshly to my mind, so of course I had to revisit it.

What folks are remembering is this scene in the end where Vera Webster’s machine turns on her and begins to “cyber-ize” her. Though this apparently traumatized many children of my age of eighties-era pop culture, and while the isolated images of it online still look quite impressively disturbing, as an adult (at least to me) the scene is quite brief and plays as fairly campy and innocuous now.

What struck me about the film this time was Superman’s reaction to Kryptonite.

Setting aside the hilarious fact that Richard Pryor was inspired by his package of Camel cigarettes to add the “secret ingredient” to the Kryptonite recipe, Kryptonite affected Superman quite differently than I expected. I thought that it would weaken Superman’s powers, but instead it seemed to weaken his—morals? soul? conscience? —which is arguably worse, because he can use his powers for bad, and does. He does in some ways that show a callous disregard for human life, but of course me being me, I related most to him giving in to his lust for alcohol and women. In what I found to simultaneously be one of the saddest and funniest scenes in the film, after Superman uses his laser-vision to make some beer nuts explode in a bar and tries to drunkenly fly away, you can hear spectators disgustedly saying things like “Superman’s changed,” and “You’re washed up, Superman.” Only one little kid, who still idolizes him, sends a different voice out over the crowd, “No, Superman’s just going through a slump.” “You’re just going through a slump, Superman!” Ricky encourages him.

You can probably see where I’m going with this now.

“Evil Superman” has a metaphorical battle with his inner good guy Clark Kent in an auto wrecking yard. To me this battle is metaphorical on a few different levels, but I think most of us who have dealt with a serious mental health issue can relate to the feeling of having done things we’re not proud of when in the throes of a bad episode, and then having to wrestle with our inner demons of depression or trauma to get back to our “real” self.

When a floozy recognizes the recovered Superman from an earlier indiscreet tryst, he boldly and confidently tells her, “That wasn’t me.” Gosh, I sure do feel that way about some of my manic encounters, and I wish I could be as badass and well-respected as Superman and say “That wasn’t me.” It *was* me, though—I just wasn’t in the driver’s seat at the time. It’s hard to emphasize to someone who hasn’t experienced it just how little control you truly have over your actions in a full-blown psychotic state. The really hard part is, you’re still accountable for them. Sadly, you can’t explain to someone that Kryptonite reconstructed from the input of a deep-space weather satellite and the tar from a Camel cigarette (I’ll never get over that) caused my behavior, but in the same strange way something I didn’t expect came out of the clear blue sky and messed with my chemicals to the point where it pinged all my impulse centers and lowered all my inhibitions, and I really wasn’t, for all intents and purposes, myself. I feel you, Superman.

Antidepressants May Not Work The Way We Think They Do

Antidepressants may not work the way we think they do—but how much does that matter? Initially scientists and researchers thought the drugs worked to correct a “chemical imbalance” in the brain, especially a balance of the chemical serotonin, which was linked with mood. It’s now recognized that the mechanics of antidepressants are much more complex than we originally thought. It’s still not entirely understood how they work, but one newer theory is that they may actually help form new connections between cells in the brain, and they may also increase other chemicals in the brain that aid in that cell growth.

Most people who take antidepressants—and not surprisingly, the numbers have gone up recently—have to cycle through a few until they find one that works well for them. And then, that particular drug usually takes some time to start working. It also may cause unpleasant side effects that interfere with your sleep, appetite, or suicidal ideation—all things you are probably trying to use the antidepressant to treat.

There is still hope, though. In a clinical trial studying the effects of antidepressants, half of the participants had significantly improved after using either the first or second medication they tried, and nearly 70 percent of people had become symptom-free by the fourth antidepressant. Trial and error and perseverance are often key to getting antidepressants to work for you.

Of course, no matter how they work, or which one works best for your personal “brain chemistry,” antidepressants aren’t a magic bullet. Important factors like sleep, diet, and exercise are also necessary, and can work just as well as antidepressant drugs for mood balance. The catch-22 I always find is that depression itself often makes these cures for depression impossible. Depression can interrupt your sleep and make you too fatigued to exercise or cook well, for example. Severe depression can even make it a chore to get out of bed, shower, or get dressed. I had one doctor describe it to me this way: Antidepressants can sometimes help “cut through the fog” long enough to give you the motivation to make the other lifestyle changes you need to treat your depression.

Chicago Mental Filmness 2022 Season Finale – Stay With Me Screening And Q & A With Writer-Director Marty Lang, 11/12, 2:00 PM @ Edgewater Library

Hey Chicago, Mental Filmness homeland!

Don’t forget our last event of the 2022 festival season is tomorrow, 2:00 p.m., at the Edgewater branch of the Chicago Public Library. I’m trying to do a last-minute push to ensure that Marty Lang, who is kind and passionate enough to travel here from Memphis to speak about his film, gets an audience to ask him some Q’s!

Stay With Me, a film about a young woman struggling with an unspecified mental illness and the friends coping with the aftermath of her suicide, felt like one of the more relatable films in the festival to me. It had a lot of warmth, some humor, and some impressive writing and acting for an indie drama which made the characters feel very much like real people. I think it’s entertaining and engaging, and a great pick for a live screening.

Writer-director Marty Lang will be in attendance for a discussion after the film and I am very interested to hear his thoughts about it.

This program is sponsored by the Diversability Advocacy Committee of the Chicago Public Library. It screens as part of Mental Filmness, a Chicago-based film festival about mental health. 

And as always, it’s free! Hope to see you there.

INSIGHTS V – Creativity & The Bipolar Brain

It wasn’t just a dream…I really was selected for a grant and exhibition by the Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation! For one night I got to be an artist superstar. The opening night at the Zolla Lieberman gallery was definitely the fanciest and most high-profile art event I have ever been a part of. I wore an “artist” ribbon (that they gave me, of course 😂) so people could come ask me about my art, and some did. A professional photographer snapped photos (including a photo of me with the photo inspiration and photographer responsible for photo inspiration). There was food that was so fancy and artistic-looking that I actually didn’t know how to eat it, and there were folks pouring your wine and circulating around asking if you needed refills and a special toast to all the artists. Ooo la la!

Of course, as impressive as all that was, the most special thing about the INSIGHTS V exhibition is that it was designed to highlight artists who live with bipolar disorder. I got to meet Dusty Sang, who co-founded the Ryan Licht Sang Bipolar Foundation with his wife to honor the memory of their son Ryan, who died at the age of 24 from complications with bipolar disorder. Some of Ryan’s art and sayings were hung in the gallery alongside the other artists. I got to tell Dusty how honored I was by this exhibit after my own struggles with bipolar disorder, and he told me everyone in the room had their struggles too. That was one of several times I teared up during the evening. The fact that this exhibit exists to celebrate creativity and the bipolar brain, to me, shows a huge leap forward in terms of awareness, breaking down stigma, and celebrating the accomplishments of individuals who live with a serious mental health diagnosis.

I’m glad I’ve gotten so much mileage out of this painting as well, because it occurred to me later it’s the only thing I’ve painted all year (specifically to try to enter the competition, which had to be a painting of a person or place important to you—I had planned on painting four more pieces to submit the max of five and never found the time). It belongs to the foundation’s permanent collection now, and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s definitely time to get back to the old easel though, especially since school break’s coming up.

Mental Filmness 2022 Virtual Fest Awards

Tonight, on an election day here in the States, it seemed fitting to tabulate the virtual ballots and announce the virtual fest awards. The way we usually award these is by looking at the films that received the most positive votes and then fitting them within the categories we usually give out: Stigma Breaker, Empathy, Realism, or Audience Awards.

The Locked Door, a short film telling the story of Igor who has been confined to his apartment for months with agoraphobia, earns the Realism Award. Ukrainian director Dmitry Badera was obviously passionate about telling a story about mental health in a culture where it is rarely heard, and spent a lot of time researching and learning about agoraphobia through interviews. I wonder if this film resonated with viewers a bit more strongly since most of us have dealt with being trapped indoors and the anxiety of leaving home in one way or another since the pandemic struck. Badera obviously struck a chord working with few resources, and the way he portrays Igor’s fear is never over-dramatized, instead showing a gradual build-up through therapy and exchanges with his brother to the ultimate moment where he decides to leave the house. It all seems too real, probably to many of us, now.

The unclassifiable video-essay/memoir/see other How to Explain Your Mental Illness to Stanley Kubrick seems to embody the spirit of the Stigma Breaker award to me. The very concept of the film lies in challenging stigmas and stereotypes that Stanley Kubrick presents in his films and that permeate culture in general, such as equating mental illness with dramatic breakdowns and violence. I personally feel the film also breaks stigma in the way the filmmaker Philip Brubaker makes himself vulnerable and relates memories of some of his own struggles with bipolar disorder. Philip has survived severe episodes, has gained stability, and has worked as a successful artist, filmmaker, and video essayist. This helps break down stigma about people who live with serious mental illnesses and what they are capable of achieving.

Just In Case, the empathetic short directed by Kirsty Robinson-Ward and written by the  writer-actress April Kelley, seems to be the most likely contender for the Empathy Award. I’m a little biased because as I’ve related here before, the film reminds me so strongly of conversations I’ve had with my own father about my bipolar disorder. However, I’ve heard at least a couple of other people say that it reminded them of different emotionally difficult conversations with their own parents. There is surely something deeply resonant about it whether or not the topic of the conversation was bipolar disorder. However, my hope, and I’m pretty sure April Kelley’s hope, would be that the natural empathy the film generates will serve as an engine for understanding bipolar disorder. Those who live with the condition can feel less alone when they empathize with the daughter in the film voicing some of her darkest thoughts. Those like the father character in the film—who don’t really understand, but truly want to for a loved one or for some other reason—may be able to gain some insight and empathy for what can be a truly debilitating and misunderstood disease.

Where Monsters Lurk, the other top vote-wrangler, seems most well-suited for the Audience Award. This short operates as a legit, entertaining horror film during the ultimate month of horror October, whilst also exposing the ultimate horror—being trapped inside a mind so depressed that it literally turns everything inside your apartment against you. The film works as both psychological horror and as object horror as writer-director Beth Ashby continually finds inventive ways to use inanimate objects that main character Kelly interacts with as a reflection of her deteriorating mind. This invention is essential because Kelly’s mind has become so dark she hasn’t been able to leave her apartment in awhile to interact with a real live human. Congratulations on earning a Realism Award for accomplishing what the best of the horror genre does, crafting a film that is scary precisely because it plays upon the monsters lurking in the back of the mind and in our everyday lives.

I was personally a little surprised by the number of submissions we received this year addressing bipolar disorder. These selections were not my personal bias; in the past we have only received two or three about it, and this year we received several outstanding selections about it. This disorder is fairly uncommon and commonly misunderstood, so my heart was heartened (maybe *that’s* personal) in feeling that it’s gradually gaining awareness and becoming less stigmatized.

I’d also like to share: 466 total orders (passes and tickets), compared to 331 last year, and 121 for year one of the virtual fest. Still not astronomical for a free virtual festival, but hey, growth is always good. 

Congratulations to the award winners, and congratulations to all of the filmmakers. Thank you for sharing your stories with us, for inspiring our modest audience and hopefully many others. I know most of you are aware of our uphill battle and say things like, if you could reach even one person, it was worth it. Well, you reached at least a few—including me.

More later. I know this is late and may try to bump it later, but many of y’all are in differing time zones. And more to come about the future of Mental Filmness. I want this all to be about the award winners for now, and mad (pun intended) congrats.

Closing Weekend Virtual Fest – “Stay With Me” Live Screening In Chicago November 12

Just a reminder….the Mental Filmness 2022 virtual festival closes tomorrow evening, November 6th, at 7:00 p.m. Until then you still have time to catch some amazing films about mental health for free that you might not be able to see anywhere else! Make sure to get your final views and votes in, and check out some of the illuminating interviews.

I’m going to post a longer thing about stats later, but every year our virtual festival viewership goes up….by a lot, actually. It’s very encouraging that it’ s getting a wider reach and some repeat viewers. I’m glad that viewers other than myself seem to enjoy it, because I probably get the most out of it. I’d like to brainstorm ideas to improve it in the future, like maybe make it more interactive with a couple of live streams/chats, since I have the feeling it’s here to stay. I’d like people to be able to have more of a discussion about the virtual films.

However, there is one last (for now) Mental Filmness screening planned, which I need to hustle to advertise more. This is our special “secret” screening, secret partially because it’s been in the works for awhile and it was finalized a little more short-notice than I had hoped. Still, I have high hopes that we can draw a bit of a local audience and it will pique some interest. Just as they did last year, the Chicago Public Library’s Diversability Advocacy Committee generously offered to host and sponsor a screening at the library. This time, though, the event will be *in person*—in the meeting room of the Edgewater branch library. The Diversability Advocacy Committee does excellent work year-round in drawing awareness to and celebrating the achievements of individuals with disabilities, including “invisible” disabilities like mental illness.

The bonus screening will be Marty Lang’s “Stay With Me,” which I find to be a very relatable dramatic feature film about a young woman who struggles with an unspecified mental illness and her boyfriend and friend who must cope with her loss to suicide. I discovered that in November International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is observed so the film seems particularly appropriate for that. Though a sobering topic, there is warmth and humor in this film and some realistic writing and acting that make it a compelling watch. Best of all, writer and director Marty Lang will be live and in person to talk about his film and answer questions about it!

So if you are in the Chicago area, I truly hope you can make it out to this special one-of-a-kind event. It should be a lovely finale to our return to live programming this year.

Highlight – Happy Anyway

I would always hate it when a therapist would say to me, “You can choose the way you feel about that.” I’d think, no you can’t! After some time and a little more work, I have to begrudgingly admit you can try to choose how to feel, and sometimes it does work a little bit, even with something as overpowering as feelings.

I had to try really hard at this during our shelter in place order here in Chicago, when I did the inevitable deep cleaning of my two-bedroom apartment. I live alone now and things are pretty quiet with my feline roommates but before that I lived with a series of roommates and partners. This place has a ten-year history for me and it’s been filled with laughter, wine, kisses, break-ups, art, parties, secrets—so many memories. Emptying drawers and closets I found things like drawings and cards dating all the way back to 2012. It was an intensely emotional architectural dig, and overwhelming at times. Finally I resolved to try my hardest when I came across a memory to think that I was lucky to have experienced that memory or that connection in my life, even if it was no longer there. I tried to focus on how many risks I had taken, adventures I’d had, meaningful relationships in my life, instead of the loss and the sorrow of missing them. This didn’t always work, but it helped.

I mention this autobiographical account because I feel that’s exactly what the lead actress in the short film Happy Anyway does. She’s a young illustrator who has experienced a loss, one more profound than any of mine, and it jerks her awake at night, disrupts her daily routine, and blocks her creativity. It’s a quiet, subtle film, both in the depiction of the young woman’s depression, which is reflected in ways like eating a granola bar for breakfast after spilling her cereal, and also through her half-smile in the end. She starts to work through her creative block and her depression by drawing happy memories of the partner she lost. She’s trying to choose how to feel about her loss, or maybe even just to allow herself to feel it, which entails feeling some of those happy memories and appreciating them. And it seems to kind of be working.

Highlight – Drunk On Too Much Life

Hello! It is the LAST weekend of the virtual festival (ends November 6th at 7:00 p.m.), so make sure to get in your final viewing before closing time! I still have a few films I hadn’t written capsule reviews on yet, so I’m going to try to finish those up PLUS talk about a special bonus screening we have on Saturday, November 12th, PLUS early next week I will reveal some stats & awards. Whew!

“It sounds very cliche to say that, you know, there’s a link between insanity and creativity. But I saw it. I saw that there was kind of an opening, there’s a lack of inhibitions, and there’s this kind of lateral thinking where you’re seeing these beautiful connections everywhere. That is fertile ground for anything creative.” The documentary Drunk On Too Much Life explores the beauty and the vision of madness. It follows Corrina, a young woman whose life was disrupted by intrusive thoughts and a psychotic episode, and her recovery, relapse, and recovery. Poetry, music, and art were a huge part of Corrina’s way out of the psych ward and back into connecting with life and others. She thought art was going to save the world, and she was going to be the one to bring that about. Her colorful and expressive drawings and paintings, songs, and writings are featured heavily in the film and help tell her story as much as any narrative.

Corrina and her family are on a quest to define her condition outside the diagnostic of a mental illness and to find treatment outside of a rotating cast of psychiatrists and medication. As well as art, other alternative techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, peer and family support, and therapy all come into play. I don’t think Corrina’s diagnosis is ever specified. She experiences intense highs and lows, and at one point her mother asks a peer mentor if he believes in diagnoses like “bipolar dis—” and he actually cuts her off and says it’s not a label, but a pattern of symptoms and behaviors. This mentor has actually stopped taking medication, but he says he does “a thousand different things” to help instead.

This movie provides a unique outlook on mental illness. It touches a few times on the idea that Joseph Campbell expressed, “the psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with the delight”–that is, the fine line between delusions and profound and even psychic insights. In a shamanistic culture, a peer tells Corrina, she might be treated as a prophet or a seer, instead of locked up. The film doesn’t shy away from showing, however, that uncontrolled, Corrina’s illness can lead to drowning in her own dark thoughts to the point of catatonic states where she cannot function. I appreciated that while Drunk On Too Much Life offered no easy answers, it explored many different ways to understand mental illness. Corrina’s mother, who made the documentary, described it as “our search for a different story and language with which to understand hearing voices and seeing visions.”