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.

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