11th Annual NYC Mental Health Film Festival
By Carla Rabinowitz, Advocacy Coordinator, Community Access
Bigger and Better Than Ever
Eleven years ago the NYC Mental Health Film Festival got started in a bizarre way. We were looking for a little fundraiser for a state-wide mental health advocacy organization, NYAPRS. A group of five of us were planning for a Halloween party in someone’s house in Queens, but her house had problems so we had to change plans.
Carlton Whitmore, now Director of Consumer Affairs at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, brought in a copy of a film festival just starting in London. He asked: “What about a mental health film festival?” I said, “Sure. I will organize it.” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I spent days on the Internet looking for positive mental health films, roaming through the then-plentiful video stores. It was very grassroots.
Then we got a little website and a few more films, and a lot more people.
Eleven years later we took over a large theater, Village East Cinema, premiered a major motion picture, “No Letting Go,” but still kept to our grassroots nature.
All selections in the NYC Mental Health Film Festival, now paid for by Community Access, are selected by mental health recipients. Our committee of recipients views every film together. The committee of recipients selects the majority of the films.
This year we showed “Patients’ Rites,” by Issa Ibrahim. I was slightly concerned when the committee picked this film, because Issa actually killed his mom 25 years ago in a psychotic state, and the focus of our film festival is to defeat stigma. But the committee insisted we show this film of hope and survival and achievement.
“Patients’ Rites” is a collection of music videos that explore the relations of mental health recipients and violence, men and women’s relations, and relations between mental health recipients and doctors.
We were fortunate this year to also show “How To Touch A Hot Stove.” This film explores stigma from the point of view of doctors and mental health recipients. And at the last minute, John Turturro, who narrates the film, decided to join us at one of our three question and answer periods after the films. Mr. Turturro is a well-known Hollywood actor from films like “Mr. Deeds,” “Raging Bull,” various Spike Lee movies and other films.
We showed some short films including “Blind Stigma,” about the stigma surrounding mental health in communities of color.
We ended with David Granirer’s “Cracking Up.” David is a well-known comedian in Canada who fell into a severe depression many years ago. Now he teaches other mental health recipients how to perform stand-up comedy. His film, “Cracking Up,” follows the first group of mental health recipients he trained. The documentary is not a stand-up comedy film. Rather, the film depicts the lives of those in his comedy group, what it took for them to appear on stage, the ups and downs in their lives, including issues surrounding male and female relations, homelessness, suicide, and, of course, the debate over medication.
To think 11 years ago we would have reached this level of professionalism, as my film-maker cousin commented, is beyond a dream.
We have changed from an older, simple website, to a professional website. We get submissions from all over the globe, while still keeping to the grassroots mental health recipient-run nature of this event.
To submit films go to: www.mentalhealthfilmfest.nyc. To help support this event go to: www.communityaccess/donate
I am so happy we kept this event going, to create community through film where mental health recipients and film-lovers can spend a day together debunking myths and learning together while laughing and crying at great films.
Note: Carla Rabinowitz is the Advocacy Coordinator at Community Access, a 41 year old non-profit that empowers mental health recipients by providing quality housing, employment training and other recovery services.
Pullout: “I was slightly concerned...because Issa actually killed his mom 25 years ago in a psychotic state, and the focus of our film festival is to defeat stigma. But the committee insisted we show this film of hope and survival and achievement.”