Inaugural Festival –

October 12-13, 4:00-10:00 P.M., 2019

Comfort Station, 2579 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, 60647

Philip Brubaker accepts a Realism Award at the inaugural Mental Filmness festival in 2019. Brubaker directed the documentary Brushes With Life: Art, Artists, and Mental Illness.

Travis Neal was a visiting filmmaker from California. Travis directed the short film Bullets, a comedy of “suicide and pizza.”

Kat Dolan, a performance poet, mental health advocate, and inspirational speaker, traveled from North Carolina to speak with us. We awarded her the Stigma Breaker award for her short film Nobody But Myself, a powerful visual love poem addressed to her depression.

Saturday, October 12, 2019 was the opening night of Mental Filmness at Comfort Station. It drew a good crowd for a new festival and a modestly sized venue. The opening short was the tense Australian film Call Connect, about a suicide hotline volunteer in training who unexpectedly takes her first call.
A glance at a unique historic venue–Comfort Station in Logan Square–and the opening night crowd. Organizer Sharon Gissy introduces the mission before screenings begin.

Mental Filmness 2020

October 10, 7:00 p.m. – November 1, 9:00 p.m.

First Virtual Festival Hosted On Eventive

Charles Crouch & Corbin Coleman of 4C Visuals Group gave an enlightening virtual conversation tackling the taboo subject of their documentary I’m Good Bro: Unmasking Black Male Depression.
Psychiatrist Melanie Ekholdt charmed the hearts and minds of our audience by sharing the story of her relationship with Michael Kildal, an adolescent who struggled with ADHD medication and substance abuse but found a release through his music. The film drew a runaway number of audience votes, winning it a Stigma Breaker award, and has gone on to play festivals around the world with international acclaim.
In Medicating & Healing self-described queer filmmaker Seamus Bestwick portrayed a gay interracial relationship on the brink of destruction due to one character’s spiraling schizophrenia. He captured the exhaustion of becoming your mentally ill partner’s caretaker so genuinely it earned him an Empathy Award.
Inside The Rain was our first big Hollywood indie, enjoying a theatrical run as well as memorable turns by Eric Roberts and Rosie Perez. Big thanks to the enormously talented writer-director-star Aaron Fisher, who lives with bipolar disorder and plays lead bipolar character Benjamin Glass with an unforgettable magnetism, making a stigmatized disease at times seem “recklessly extravagant.”
Mark Di Stefano’s A Black Sleep depicted a young woman’s depression as a subtle daily presence she lives with, affecting her sleep, work performance, and attempts to date. Its humor and relatability resonated with viewers, winning it an Audience Award.
The capital murder trial of deeply troubled schizophrenic Johnny Johnson continues to haunt the community of Valley Park, Missouri. A juror said that Johnson committed the worst possible crime, but does that mean he deserves the worst possible punishment? Documentarian Ben Scholle presented these probing moral questions in his film Through The Cracks and in our conversation about it.

Mental Filmness 2021

October 9, 7:00 p.m. – November 1, 7:00 p.m.

Second Virtual Festival Hosted On Eventive

Goodnight Mr. Vincent Van Gogh is a short animation explaining suicide to children, directed by suicide loss survivor Lindsey Doolitte and illustrated by survivors who have lost a loved one to suicide. Lindsey Doolittle joined us in conversation at a Chicago Public Library virtual author visit to discuss why some people get sick with colds and tummy flus—and some people get sick with sadness–and why people don’t want to talk about it.
Tunesmith and storyteller Damon Smith has a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and OCD, and he took his theatrical show on the road with his songwriting partner Adam Coad to explain to the world talking about mental illness should be just as easy as talking about a broken arm. Mental As Everything’s appealing blend of music, comedy, and personal narrative earned it an Audience Award, and Smith was gracious enough to participate in a candid interview with us across the monumental U.S.-Australia time zone gap.
Kagan Goh was not only kind enough to provide us with the U.S. premiere of his film The Day My Cat Saved My Life; he also engaged in a lively Zoom conversation about it, and gifted organizer Sharon Gissy a copy of his memoir Surviving Samsara, from one bipolar creative to another.
We were incredibly lucky to engage in conversation with the inspiring and dynamic couple Issa Ibrahim & Susan Spangenberg, who have overcome mental health obstacles and hospitalization over the years to build a home together with shared art and cats. They share the story of their endurance in Mad Love.
Emma Benoit’s story is an incredible one – not only did she survive her suicide attempt, but she thrived – even paralyzed. After surviving a gunshot wound to her chest that confined her to a wheelchair, Emma has become a passionate and prominent suicide awareness advocate, bravely sharing her story with the world. She was gracious enough to share some of her precious time with us in a brief interview where she discussed how helping others with their mental health has given her life meaning.
Ronald Braunstein was on his way to becoming a world-class conductor when his career was shattered once his bipolar disorder went public. So he decided to create an orchestra for people like him – Orchestrating Change tells the story of the Me2/Orchestra, the only orchestra in the world for people living with mental illness. Margie Friedman and Barbara Multer-Wellin joined us in a discussion of the colorful cast of the orchestra and how its taken on a life of its own.

Mental Filmness 2022

Live & In-Person:

October 15, 7:00-10:00 PM

The Davis Theater, 4614 N Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625

After: A Love Story (With Writer/Actress/Producer Alyssa Thordarson In Conversation)

We couldn’t find another chair in our theater, so we did some good old-fashioned Mental Filmness improv with some standing Q and A’s. Alyssa Thordarson’s powerful short After: A Love Story, about a couple struggling in the aftermath of a shared trauma, generated some insightful conversation.

Alyssa was actually, oddly enough, our first guest filmmaker from Chicago. Her short also played the Chicago Critics Film Festival. So we invented a new award for her (Hometown Heroes) for representing realistic and empathetic mental health on film in our very own Windy City.

A Story Worth Living (With Director/Writer/Actress Vanessa Leonard In Conversation)

Our feature presentation of A Story Worth Living had been years in the making. Vanessa Leonard contacted the festival early on, in its very first year in 2019, and expressed an interest in screening with us—but only in person. She finally made it and was an incredibly engaging and sincere guest; I wish we had left more time for her and her crew to speak.

For diligently following and keeping up with the festival for all this time, as well as continuing her mission of spreading mental health awareness with her film the last few years, Vanessa earned a new award too—that of “Most Dedicated.” I continue to be moved by her support and look forward to seeing what she does in the future.

November 12, 2:00-4:00 PM

The Edgewater Library, 6000 N Broadway, Chicago, IL

Stay With Me (With Writer/Director Marty Lang In Conversation)

We partnered with the Chicago Public Library’s Diversability Advocacy Committee once again for a screening, this time live and in person! Marty Lang, the writer and director of the moving independent feature Stay With Me, presented his film about a young woman living with an unspecified mental illness and her friend and boyfriend who cope with her suicide loss.

Marty Lang was a kind and enthusiastic guest from Memphis who expressed an interest in visiting the festival in person and generously made the Chicago Public Library a stop on his indie festival circuit tour to chat with us.

Marty Lang is quite tall, and I know those library chairs must have been a wee bit uncomfortable for him. He still engaged in a spirited conversation with the audience about mental health advocacy and the making of the film.

Virtual Festival On Eventive:

October 8, 7:00 PM – November 6, 7:00 PM

Our virtual festival is probably here to stay—it significantly broadens our audience and opportunities for engagement. Our biggest highlights this year were probably the number of creator interviews (twenty); the fact that we had three returning filmmakers, from years one, two, and three: Philip Brubaker, Melanie Ekholdt, and Kagan Goh (who was this time the subject of a documentary short called Re-Live); and the fact that we are approaching almost 500 viewers, up from 121 the first year.