Goodnight, Goodnight Mr. Vincent Van Gogh

I know you’re probably sick of hearing of it, and it’s finally time to put Goodnight, Mr. Vincent Van Gogh (the event) to bed. But first, a recap!

Like many people living with mental illness, anxiety is a huge co-morbidity for me. Some anxiety is healthy and normal, such as that leading up to an event you’re hosting. Mine is probably more pronounced than average, though.

I eliminated my first nightmare, that the movie wouldn’t play, early enough in the day, though that was much harder than the “well I’ll just share my screen and stream from Eventive.” Thank God I was given a lot of time off the desk to play-test, more than I initially thought I needed, because I quickly realized this wouldn’t work. I did test runs and when I played back the footage, the screen was always black on Zoom, even though I could see it fine. After a little Google research I realized this was probably copyright restriction, which I didn’t think would apply with a pass to my own virtual festival. Well, take heart any filmmakers worried about your rights, Eventive takes anti-piracy very seriously! To demonstrate this further, the artist uploads their mp4 directly into the platform and even I don’t have access to it after that. I quickly realized I needed that mp4, and to share it in a video, to have a quality screening. Oops.

I e-mailed Lindsey in a panic, and she got back to me just a few seconds after I resourcefully discovered I could successfully download and play back from Filmfreeway. I was then able to download the mp4 she gave me from Vimeo and that seemed to be golden. I quickly saved and backed up everything so I could hopefully get to it in just a few clicks when the time came, and by the grace of God, I did.

So you’ve probably noticed I’ve been screaming from the rooftops about this event in the hopes of drumming up an audience. I advertised on the festival site, on the library site, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Eventbrite. That is because it can be difficult to get an audience for library programs to begin with, plus I figured it was a difficult topic, plus I didn’t want to let down the library’s Diversability Committee who asked me to do it, or Lindsey. And after all that, we had fifteen participants. I actually don’t think that number is too bad for a library program involving non-famous people that also isn’t a story time. And I’ve always been blessed with some wonderful friends and supporters of my hare-brained endeavors, some of whom showed up right away and continued to leave encouraging comments in the chat the whole time, immediately putting me at ease. I have always been lucky in that department.

My second greatest fear was that either I would say something dumb or insensitive, or someone in the audience would. It is, again, a very sensitive topic. I thought I rambled a bit but that was probably anxiety talking (like it literally was at the time), or at least my support system said so. And well, the audience? I don’t think I could have asked for a better one. They were engaged, enthusiastic, and had intelligent insights and questions. The patron who ran most contrary to my fears actually turned off her Zoom video because she was crying and effusing so much, and chatted that she just bought two of Lindsey’s books!

As audience insights always bring new perception to light, I thought about one patron who said she loved how the film didn’t include a lot of detail surrounding the death. One thing I never considered before, though it’s such a simple yet revelatory observation, is the art of brevity in the film. The narrative is truly aimed at a child’s level. The discussion of the disease of depression, after touching upon how it can make people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, culminates in, “He hurt himself.” “I know,” responds the child, “He died.” The message has been received.

Lindsey spoke of the fact that she originally created the book as an educational resource, never thinking of the fact that it would make the festival circuit. As a former children’s librarian, I know there’s a number of “message” books out there about death—and some of them aren’t great, but they serve the necessary purpose of explaining it to a child. Goodnight Mr. Vincent Van Gogh serves a very specific niche. What do you say to the child who keeps asking, “How did they die?” about someone who died by suicide? People may say they’ll tell them when they’re older, or they may even, Lindsey said from her personal experience, make up lies.

We tell children about other traumatic deaths, like deaths from cancer, or diabetes. And we don’t need to go into grisly detail about those, either. We can explain them at a child’s level, and as they grow older, they can learn more about regulating blood sugar and nicotine, or chemotherapy. If at a very young age we learn that depression is a disease that can cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do, like hurt themselves, it does at least a couple of things: it offers what might be a cathartic response to a child’s curiosity in a non-condescending way, and it de-stigmatizes depression. It may very well plant a seed in that child’s head that depression can be a deadly disorder leading to self-harm, and they may be able to recognize and intervene in the symptoms of depression later in life.

I pointed out that the film is much more than an educational tool, however, and doesn’t feel like it. With its gentle narrative, music, and interesting shifting animation styles, it really comes across as a piece of art as well, which just helps the medicine go down more smoothly.

I suppose I should add one last note here, which is that this event was actually the brainchild of the Chicago Public Library’s Diversability Committee. Some people ask, what is diversability? As I understand it, it’s the awareness and celebration of disabilities. It seems more inclusive, however, to think of them as diversities or differences rather than limitations like the term “disability” implies. I like the term I see being used a lot now, “neurodivergent.” A different way of thinking that may produce different insights. Knowing my background and work with mental health, they asked if I may want to host a screening and Q & A, so this was a novel experiment. I would like to note that we had several good candidates but Lindsey’s book adaptation seemed particularly well-suited to the library.

You still have time to check out the animated short Goodnight Mr. Vincent Van Gogh playing in Shorts Block No. 1 of the virtual festival, and to watch Lindsey’s interview. The film is almost deceptive in its simplicity for speaking such a powerful and unique message.

So goodnight, Goodnight Mr. Vincent Van Gogh! I apologize if I’ve been over-publicizing it or giving some of the other films short shrift, they’re all wonderful in their own way.

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