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Au Contraire Film Festival puts the focus on mental illness

by Sandra Hercegova October 29, 2017
Au Contraire Film Festival puts the focus on mental illness

Four days of international films that reflect the realities of stigmatization

The Au Contraire Film Festival (ACFF) received over 300 film submissions from around the world for its  fifth edition.  Among those, the festival’s jury selected the top 25 films to present in Montreal from Oct. 24 to 27. “We want films that entertain, that make people aware and that educate the audience. That’s the thread of how we select films,” said Philip Silverberg, the festival’s founder.

The ACFF is an initiative of Paradis Urbain, a charity created by  Silverberg and festival director Marcel Pinchevsky, along with a small team. “Our mission was to provide a stage for adults who live with persistent or chronic mental illness to rehabilitate,” Silverberg said. In an effort to expand the charity’s mission and raise money, the team developed the ACFF.

“It has now become an important event in the annual Montreal mental health continuum—the festival is there to destigmatize mental illness,” Silverberg said. The ACFF showcases international, thought-provoking films that explore mental health issues from different perspectives. “We want to screen films that will change people’s perception on mental illness,” Silverberg explained. “Our films actually reflect all the realities of stigmatization, the feelings of being afraid, ignored, devalued and rejected. The films we select demonstrate that mental illness is not a fault, it is not a weakness and it is not a lack of character.”

Stills from the opening film of the festival, Elizabeth Blue.

Over the past few years, the ACFF has acquired an international reputation. “We have attracted not only good films but the directors and producers who attend the festival,” Silverberg said.  On Oct. 26, the ACFF screened a documentaries series featuring short films under the patronage of Réseau Alternatif et Communautaire des Organismes (RACOR), an association that represents nearly 100 community and alternative organizations involved in the mental health of Montrealers. One of these films was 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide, a documentary that showcases the life and mental illness of Ruth Litoff, the sister of the film’s director, Hope Litoff.

This years festival offered a workshop called Re-Animation Introductory Workshop which was developed, designed and delivered by Animation Therapy Ltd. Focusing on both mental and physical health as one, the workshop was delivered to interested attendees including the animation department at Concordia University, Up House and The Museum of fine arts Art Therapy department.

Unique to this year’s fifth edition of the festival, the ACFF focused one night on francophone films at an event called Soirée-Lumière. This screening put the spotlight on Quebec films, with all proceeds going towards the ACFF and Weekend Champêtres, an experimental camp program for those with persistent mental illness. Silverberg said he hopes Soirée-Lumière will become a main stay in the festival’s program.

According to Silverberg, the festival’s goal is to enlighten the audience’s perceptions of mental illness through participation and discussion. “Whoever attends our festival should be prepared to be amazed, to laugh, to cry and to learn,” he said.

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