Originally Published in Toronto News by Rahul Gupta
A long-running arts festival focused on mental health wants patrons to #GetMad about depression and suicide.
Rendezvous with Madness was the world’s first film festival solely dedicated to exploring themes of mental health when it debuted 27 years ago. In recent years, the festival has expanded its offerings beyond film to include visual art, theatre and standup comedy, all focusing on themes of mental health and illness.
The festival, which is primarily based in Workman Arts on Dufferin Street, also organizes regular discussions on mental health, including post-screening Q-and-A’s, between artists, mental health practitioners and the audience.
This year, Rendezvous with Madness will utilize a social media hashtag, #GetMad, to encourage even further conversations about mental health via Twitter and other platforms, said festival executive director Kelly Straughan.
“What we’ve seen in the last few years is people are much more open to talk about their mental health struggles,” said Straughan. More people are willing to talk about experiences, which can be powerful, and we’re hoping to harness that with #GetMad.”
Even with initiatives like Let’s Talk and the willingness of public figures to talk about their experiences, a stigma surrounding mental illness remains, Straughan believes.
“Anecdotally people feel shame, secrecy, and it speaks volumes where we’re at as a society,” said Straughan. “Until the dialogue changes there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
The 10-day festival will debut on Oct. 10, World Mental Health Day, with a screening of the documentary Conviction, which focuses on the struggles of female inmates of a Nova Scotia correctional institution. The screening takes place at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema.
Rather than impose their own vision, the filmmakers provided inmates with their own hand-held video cameras to capture their incarceration, freedom and all too often their subsequent return to prison.
“Too often there’s a lack of support (for inmates) who are handed a bus ticket to a world that doesn’t support mental health or addiction needs,” said Straughan.
A panel discussion is planned after the screening featuring the filmmakers, some of the film’s subjects and the Elizabeth Fry Society, which provides post-incarceration support and empowerment for female convicts. Toronto playwright Grace Thompson’s new work for the festival, the dark comedy In This House, focuses on the impacts of depression and suicide on millennials. As its title suggests, much of In This House takes place within the confines of a single living room where over the course of a year, friends and housemates, all in their 20s, react to life-shattering events in their personal lives. The plot was inspired by Thompson and peers’ struggles with depression and uncertainty following graduation from theatre school. Tragically, one of Thompson’s former classmates killed himself during that time. “Everyone was in a deep dark place, and I wanted to understand how we talk about suicide and depression,” Thompson, 29, said in Stratford, Ont. last week. “Mental health can be like a massive weight. There’s a constant struggle and pressure everyone is up against.”
In addition to theatre and film, Rendezvous with Madness will host a visual art exhibition over the festival’s 10 days at the Toronto Media Arts Centre, at 32 Lisgar St.
Making Mad will dedicate gallery space to large-scale multimedia presentations, as well as a discussion panel with the six featured artists, said exhibition curator Claudette Abrams.
“There has always been a visual component to the festival, but (with the exhibition) we’re making it more defined,” said Abrams. “We’ve always sought a gallery space to have more multimedia and performance