New Year, New Festival

A new year is really just a term of art. And every year, it’s the same pattern at the library: all the books that come in on hold for folks are the books on how to quit smoking and drinking, how to lose weight, how to save money, how to organize your closet. Not to mention, we’re headed into another year of whatever the world’s been going through, which is wearing everybody down. But I think everyone still likes the idea of a fresh start, even if it’s an imagined one. I think we all need one. 

It’s good to think of self-improvement, but I think there will still be days for most people, not just those with mental illness, where you just need to muddle through, and days where we slip back to our vices or are tempted to do so. That’s why I’m not a huge believer in New Year’s resolutions. I feel like sometimes the pressure makes me feel more self-critical and makes my self-esteem even lower. I don’t know, this may seem similar in a way, but I like to have some goals and visions for the year ahead, especially now, to look forward to. 

And one of those goals is for Mental Filmness, which I’d like to grow more every year. I think there is an audience for it, and I’d like to see it get even bigger. I have a few ideas in mind for this, so I’ll see if we can make it happen. I hope we can have a modest in-person evening event in Chicago, but I’ve been saying that for the last couple of years at this point and I’m not banking on it. But working within the framework of possibilities, I’d really like to get more eyes on the films and more people talking about mental health. 

As I’ve said before, I feel like Mental Filmness helps me with my own mental health in the way that I would hope it helps others. It helps me to hear other stories and realize I am not alone, that many people have shared my struggles and overcome even more adversity than me. Other people have told me it is cathartic to tell their story. They feel as if it transforms what could be viewed as a shameful secret or stigmatized condition into a way to connect with others and help them realize mental illness is an obstacle that they have the strength to overcome. 

On this #MentalHealthMonday I am incredibly grateful to all the people who helped make Mental Filmness happen from the start. These include volunteers from the Chicago venue Comfort Station, volunteer screeners, partnering committees, and encouraging friends who spread the word; of course, all the filmmakers who submitted and the ones who paid their own way to travel to Chicago that first special in-person year; all those who agreed to do interviews to share their insights, and more. I cannot even believe as I put the call for entries together that this is “Year Four” of this event that means so much to me and hopefully others. I would like to keep it going as long as possible in some form because I think that mental health struggles, while they may take a different shape, are not going anywhere and there will always be novel stories and treatments and recoveries. Sadly, I think there will always be some people who are lost to mental illness as well but I also think that is why it’s all the more important to emphasize hope and empathy.

The call for entries is open for Mental Filmness 2022–I’m just operating on the presumption now that Earth will still be around in something resembling its current format in 2022. You can find it here on Filmfreeway: Please submit a film you have about mental health, or encourage others you know to submit. There is a small submission fee of $10, which really just offsets any incidental costs we happen to have, (generally streaming and Zoom fees lately, things of that nature), and which also acts as a bit of a filter to narrow down the films to a mental health topic. By all means if the fee is a hardship for you, feel free to e-mail and we should be able to grant a waiver—either way, someone’s thinking about the topic and still wants to enter!

That moment when the films start rolling in has actually become one of my personal favorite parts of the New Year. It’s really exciting to read the synopsis, to see where they’re from, to see what they’re about, and to view them. There are so many gems and such a variety, and I start to get excited envisioning how the festival will take shape for the next year. It has definitely become such a big part of my mental health, feeling like I receive little gifts all year from people who have a similar passion for this topic and their own story to share. Thank you to all those reading this for your interest in Mental Filmness and keeping the spark alive and going!

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