Film Review: Experimental Shorts + Discussion at SMHAFF 2018


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The CCA hosted director Dominique Tipper and writer-actor Ann Akin from Trying to Find Me in conversation with Andrew Eaton-Lewis, the Arts Lead for the Mental Health Foundation, addressing the lack of functional and real depictions of people dealing with mental health issues.

The conversation was the epilogue to the screening of seven experimental shorts by filmmakers from around the globe, each one presenting a more radical storytelling approach.

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Film Festival is a commendable effort in itself, for it manages to bring two pertinent objectives together: to support the arts and challenge preconceived ideas about mental health. Cinematic experimentation adds another layer to the labyrinthine conversation: to me the idea was reminiscent of John Green’s YA novel Turtles All the Way Down – his own story of struggle with crippling anxiety.

The variety in the shorts was delightfully inclusive, and none of the sins were committed: no trivialisation of the agony, no glamorisation of teen confusion, and no judgements.

 

Mangoes by Mexican writer-director Sofia Auza and Canadian spoken word artist Andrew Warner lit the screens with orange hues, looking at the dynamics of friendships amid the struggles of the mind. From crocs to sunrise, the imagery set a tone for the movies to come.

Fraser Pemberton’s Hourglass is the kind of short that forced you to look at the metaphors beyond the superficial. No one can fully understand what’s happening, and by the time they do, the proverbial clock has turned.

If I were to choose a favorite, it would be Sven Niemeyer’s Cold. The 6 minute dance drama depicted a mentally ill mother, who is fighting the demons as hard as she can- but the normalcy of selfless motherhood eludes her. Depictions of middle-aged women dealing with mental illnesses are so scarce, and the experimentation in this one hits just the right depths.

Uncle Ivon is the kind of movie you’d expect to ruffle some feathers: in its portrayal of schizophrenia, the plot walks on that thin line between stereotypes and misconceptions. Where it scores bonus points is in consciously avoiding the trivialisation of teenage bullying, which only aggravates the plight.

I Am Emmanuel by Genevieve Clay-Smith and Trying to Find Me by Dominique Tipper played more through the story and characters, and often touched upon issues beyond the realm of just mental wellbeing.

Rosie Westhoff’s Blue keeps the door open for interpretations. One could blame the short length for it- and one could look at the acknowledgement of the ‘blues’ that haunt us. But that’s just my interpretation; Blue could mean everything and nothing simultaneously.

 

The shorts sparked off the conversation they intended to, and perhaps even echoed Green’s message: the narrative of mental illnesses is an ongoing one rather than one that belongs in the past, but I say this for everyone, for all reasons: a trigger warning would’ve been nice.

[Kritika Narula]

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