Mental Filmness is a Chicago-based film festival showcasing films about mental health. The festival is dedicated to breaking the stigma surrounding mental health by sharing stories and promoting empathy for those who live with a chronic mental health disorder or those who have experienced a mental health issue.

Why Mental Filmness? Organizer Sharon Gissy created the festival after her own life-altering struggles with bipolar disorder. Being a cinephile and strongly feeling that film can be a powerful medium for sharing stories and experiences, her hope was that the festival could serve as both a window and a mirror–providing insight into the lives of others struggling with their mental health, and also reflecting back some lived experience in a cathartic way—helping others feel less alone.

We are especially interested in challenging stereotypes, showing different perspectives, and informing and enlightening the general public about mental health.

We define “mental health” as a broad umbrella that encompasses any issue related to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, or our overall mental fitness.

Mental Filmness had its premiere in Chicago at Comfort Station, 2579 N. Milwaukee Avenue, October 12-13, 2019, the weekend after World Mental Health Day. Comfort Station is an award-winning, historic multidisciplinary art space in the heart of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with several followers. Mental Filmness was free of charge, and attracted a dedicated audience who enjoyed the films as well as some visiting filmmakers.

Due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus in Chicago Mental Filmness hosted the 2020 as well as the 2021 film festival virtually on the Eventive platform Mental Filmness | Mental Filmness (eventive.org). The festival had a great experience with Eventive reaching a wider audience in disparate geographic regions. As a result, we plan to continue hosting a virtual festival component for the foreseeable future, to open up wider access to the films.

As of this writing, Mental Filmness plans to remain a hybrid festival, with both live Chicago screenings and a virtual streaming festival. The main festival (both physical and streaming) has always occurred in conjunction with World Mental Health Day, on October 10, to draw awareness to the mission–typically on the weekend falling closest to this date. The festival hopes to expand and offer some more special-event screenings as we grow.

In curating films for the festival, we look for diversity of cultures and mental health experiences portrayed, as well as an overall feeling of realism or empathy for mental health. However, we also feel it is important for purposes of both education and entertainment to show themes of mental health in a variety of tones and genres—and have received and screened comedies, musicals, animation, and sci-fi and horror films on the subject, among others.

All Mental Filmness programs have always been, and always will be, free and accessible to all to ensure our mission of spreading mental health awareness, understanding, and empathy.