A Rendezvous With Madness

A Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival Begins Tonight

The 17th annual Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival unfurls tonight with the film Clara at 7pm. It's being presented at the new home of Workman Arts, 651 Dufferin Street (the former Equity Showcase Theatre).

The festival is unique in that it doesn't focus on any one type of film (short, documentary, feature) or a cultural group (like 'The Jewish Film Festival', 'Reel Asian', etc); the only strand that ties the films together is that all the stories deal with mental health and addiction in one way or another. Following every film there is a lively panel discussion featuring filmmakers and mental health professionals, during which they discuss the issues and behaviour the film has portrayed and brought to the surface.

Another intriguing thing about the festival is that many of the screenings will be hosted inside the Centre For Addiction And Mental Health (CAMH) on Queen West instead of at a typical movie theatre.

It may all sound a bit daunting for the first timer, but it's actually a very relaxed atmosphere where art and social issues go hand in hand. The more we know about mental health issues and how they work through the films and discussions, the better equipped we'll all be when the time comes to deal with them in our own lives.

As usual, the organizers have put together a top-notch collection of amusing, dark and beautiful films currently on the festival circuit. Tonight's feature, Clara, is a German biopic about the wife of composer Robert Schumann, and her salacious romance with her husband's protĂŠgĂŠ, Johannes Brahms. It promises, at the very least, to feature some incredible 19th century music as its score.

I talked to Lisa Brown, founder and Executive Artistic Director of a Rendezvous with Madness, about the 2009 festival.

BlogTO: Tell me about the original inspiration for RWM and how it came about?

Lisa: Workman Arts has been producing art in various media that explore themes of mental illness. In 1992 Kathleen Fagan, from Ottawa, approached me regarding my interest in screening films dealing with madness. Kathleen stated that she had amassed thousands of film titles that dealt with this subject. The annual Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival was born out of this chance meeting.

How do you feel that film as an art lends itself to sharing stories of mental illness and addiction?

Mental illness has always been difficult to present to the public due to the stigma and fear attached. Ironically, it's also very much in the public eye, usually in the context of entertainment in the thousands of movies available to the public. In the movies, madness -- in some form or interpretation -- is everywhere. It's a fundamental part of the human experience; therefore it's presented to movie audiences who can sit back and watch from a distant, secure position. Mental illness is a phenomenon that fascinates and repels. Common images and perceptions of mad scientists, shell-shocked soldiers, tormented artists, and neurotics of every kind are usually from films.

What are some of the themes and issues that this year's crop of films focuses on?

The more prevalent themes explore family and coping or not coping with mental illness, and the intersection of art and madness.

Because these issues can be difficult to cope with and effect all of our lives in some way, some festival goers can be a bit hesitant to confront them head on and seek out films about mental illness and addiction.

One only needs to consider that 20% of people will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime. Unfortunately only 1/3 of those will seek help. Coming to the festival may help people allay their fears. Screening films that present images in a context encourages discussion and reflection of these images. After each program the audience has the opportunity to have a discussion with a panel comprised of people living with the experience, mental health professionals and filmmakers. It almost makes mental illness normal.

What are some of the screenings/discussions you're looking forward to the most this year?

I'm most excited about our opening film Clara and the discussion with Dr. David Goldbloom and Pianist Yuval Fichman. Composer Robert Schumann was a brilliant composer. He was also considered seriously mentally ill. He also had a loving family who supported him through his highs and lows.

I suspect it was not easy for his wife Clara -- but who said life was easy.

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