Nigel Stone went along to the Films For Change screening at Leeds Town Hall, part of Leeds International Film Festival …
“We’d better hide the knives”, someone joked – someone I thought cared – the first time I took my fluoxetine. Considering the fact that a quarter of the population will experience some form of mental illness, it’s ridiculous that the uninformed stigma of mental illness continues to this day.
“Film To Change” attempts to tackle and dispel that stigma, through the medium of film; and on the 12th of November, I attended a screening of some of their work, at The Town Hall; as part of the 27th Leeds International Film Festival.
After a brief introduction about the history of the group, the lights dimmed.
Shaking off my Pavlovian anticipation of the “Pearl and Dean” fanfare, I settled back, with notebook in hand, and almost forgot to take notes; such was the wealth of talent on show.
What struck me first, was the amazing performance of Liam Thomas, in Rob Pritchard’s film Daddy Long Legs. The camera loves Liam; as did the audience that night. The film itself is predominantly a talking head; Liam sits in a cafe, Liam lies on a prison bed, Liam recounts his journey from bad boy to…….no, I won’t ruin the ending. Professionally shot and edited, Daddy Long Legs set the bar high. Fortunately, the remaining films were more than up to the challenge.
Andrew Raby’s Black Dog was next. I’ve been following the production of Black Dog on Facebook for some time now, so it was fascinating to see the finished product on the big screen. It was well worth the wait. Ambitious in scope, the film illustrated only too well the anguish, solitude, and strength that I associate with my own period of mental illness, whilst suffering from depression. The misunderstandings, the missed opportunities, they were all there. Of all the films shown that night I think “Black Dog” is the one which highlighted that all important statistic the most; 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness! It could be someone you know! It could be you!
Eye Spy was the next film shown, and it broke your heart. A young girl, in her bedroom, with her toys, shows us the impact mental illness can have, on those who live with someone suffering from bipolar disorder. Fairy tales are dark by nature, and this particular tale was pitch black. On good days, daddy takes his princess on adventures; on bad days, daddy can’t help his princess. Cleverly scripted, and wonderfully acted, Eye Spy was devastingly compulsive viewing.
The next film was short, sad, but warm enough to mend your broken heart. Upstairs tackled the subject of dementia. It also highlighted how easy it is to forget that the elderly were once young too. The film encouraged us to look beyond the behaviour, that can be exhibited by someone suffering from dementia. It also demonstrated how simple it can be sometimes, to assist that person.
I think it’s fair to say, that the films screened up to that point, weren’t exactly light entertainment. Well made, well written, professionally produced, yes. But there weren’t all that many laughs coming from the audience; perhaps not surprising, considering the subject matter. “The Incredible Shrinking Man” changed all that.
Satirical and silly, …Shrinking Man brought some light relief to proceedings. I was reminded of the films of Mel Brooks, as I watched our poor, suffering hero endure the ridiculous incompetence and indifference of his therapist. Is mental illness a laughing matter? Well this particular reviewer would much rather see a man dance in his pants than have to sit through yet another stalking, slashing mass murderer, slice and stab his way through a gaggle of promiscuous teenagers. So yes, I for one think it’s ok to laugh, during a film about mental illness. And the audience that night seemed to agree with me.
Before the obligatory Q&A session, we watched one more film starring Liam Thomas. The Monkey and The Burden is another ambitious film; and proof that there are some extremely talented writers and directors in Leeds; producing outstanding work. Two lost souls in a cafe; each with a story to be told. Blessed with some excellent special effects, and outstanding performances, The Monkey and The Burden was yet more proof, that given the encouragement, and the resources, the Film To Change group can produce short films fit for the big screen.
Production is already underway, on the next batch of goodies from these film makers. Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Give the members of Film To Change a camera, and they’ll give you so much more back in return.
And remember; 25% of the population will experience mental illness! But that doesn’t stop them making films that can both entertain and enlighten.