There was a moment in Lift the Mask: Portraits of Life with Mental Illness where I was kind of floored and thought to myself “Wow, we have to include this.” It was during a vulnerable conversation between a mother and her son who suffered so badly from his various mental health diagnoses that they decided if they couldn’t find a treatment that worked for him within a certain amount of time, they might consider suicide as an option. As painful as it would be to lose him, it was also devastating to see him suffering every day. I thought to myself, I’ve heard this conversation, and I’ve even had this conversation, but I never expected to see it in a movie. In my conversation with Maya Kaufman from the Quell Foundation, she said there was a question of whether or not to include that scene, but it ultimately ended up being one of the scenes that resonated with audience members the most.
I think this illustrates the rawness and vulnerability that is so powerful about Lift the Mask: Portraits of Life with Mental Illness. The film is more or less what it sounds like, a documentary chronicling different individuals with mental health diagnoses and their struggles and achievements. However, it’s decidedly not one of those standard “talking heads” documentaries. It’s more like talking in the home—the real, intimate conversations we don’t normally get to see. Like a tense conversation between a mother and a daughter about how the decision to get electroconvulsive therapy was simultaneously one of the hardest ones of both of their lives. Or a father who tearfully describes lying on different mattresses to find which one was the most comfortable when trying to set up a bedroom for his son, who was incarcerated as a result of a mental health episode.
That father, Kevin Lynch, started the Quell Foundation partially in response to his own painful struggles with mental illness and a broken mental health system, making him a kindred spirit to Mental Filmness. In addition to their documentary films the foundation offers scholarships to spread the message of mental health awareness and programs in training first responders on their own mental health issues. Their other documentary, Sound the Alarm, on mental health issues in the first responder community, is equally strong and I hope to be able to screen it in the Chicago area in the future. You can check out some of the important work they are doing, and arrange to host a screening, at https://thequellfoundation.org/
In the meantime, you can screen Lift the Mask: Portraits of Life with Mental Illness for free in the virtual festival until November 6th, and check out an interview with Maya Kaufman of the Quell Foundation in the interviews section.