The Mental Filmness Hall of Fame: Kagan Goh

Kagan Goh’s short film The Day My Cat Saved My Life premiered in the Mental Filmness 2021 virtual festival. The film—which he wrote, directed, and starred in–demonstrated a strong sense of poetic narrative in depicting a specific scene from a young man’s life. That young man was spiraling into a psychotic episode when his cat helped ground him and pull him out of it. I soon learned that it was a scene that was drawn from Kagan’s own life, and even later I learned that the scene was also part of Surviving Samsara, an autobiographical book made up of just those sorts of scenes or vignettes.

Kagan Goh is a character you don’t easily forget. His enthusiasm for the festival and for the arts and mental health advocacy in general are infectious. His character shines through in the documentary Ratana Aiyawongse made about him, Re-Live, that is playing in this year’s festival.

Having spoken to Kagan and read his book, I was already familiar with some of the thoughts and beliefs he expressed in the film—one of my favorites being the metaphor that you have to make your mental health the very first car in the train of your life, the one that is pulling everything else along.

I know this entry is mostly about Kagan, but credit must be given to Ratana here as well. Ratana’s portrait of Kagan captures his personality quite well considering its modest ten-minute runtime. He traces a clear narrative arc from Kagan’s challenges with bipolar disorder to his recovery process to his eventually becoming stable, married, and actually giving back to his community and helping others who struggle with their mental health.

Kagan’s story gives others hope that recovery and stability from a fairly serious mental health diagnosis are possible. I would highly recommend Surviving Samsara and Re-Live as inspirational accounts of living with and successfully managing a chronic condition such as bipolar disorder—for which, he rightfully states, there is no cure. Kagan is also, as I have learned, an incredibly kind, giving, and warm-hearted person once he gets to know you, and especially if you share his passion for mental health and the arts (and sometimes a combination of the two).

I love it when people say “I’m working on this other film now, and I’m going to submit it to Mental Filmness,” or “I told so-and-so to submit it to Mental Filmness.” I really love the idea of carrying on stories and legacies, and continuing to promote filmmakers who are passionate about mental health and continuing to follow their journey. It makes me feel like it is more than a little film festival, it’s a community.

It’s really difficult not to feel a little lift in spirits when you see Kagan’s big, radiant grin. You would never have guessed how hard-earned it really was.

Be sure to watch Re-Live, Ratana Aiyawongse’s documentary short about Kagan Goh, in Shorts Block No. 5 of the virtual festival:

I interviewed Ratana about the film here:

Be sure to check out all things Kagan Goh at, as he is quite good at making art about mental health, something we are very supportive of here.

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