Stigmas tackled on the silver screen

In Good Words, a film by a former Concordia student, a smooth interview suddenly goes awry when the question of mental health arises.

The Au Contraire Film Festival aims to change negative representations of mental illness through more than 20 works

In film, mental illness has often been used as a scapegoat, or as an excuse for a character to act a certain way. There is a predictable pattern that emerges—characters living with mental illness are often isolated, dangerous or unpredictable. They are dependent on caregivers. These characters find themselves being defined by their illnesses and are at the mercy of their symptoms. This is especially true in the horror genre, where many “evil” or “bad” characters are crazed, deranged, or on the run from the psychiatric hospital.

The Au Contraire Film Festival, a film festival focusing on the theme of mental illness, seeks to change this negative representation of mental illness by challenging the usual narratives surrounding mental illness. From Oct. 25 to 28, over 20 works by filmmakers around the world will be presented at the fourth edition of the festival, which will take place at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Each film defies the conventional understanding and representation of mental illness, and instead offers edgy alternatives. Each work destroys stigmas of mental illness by reclaiming what it means to either be living with mental illness or know someone who is.

Philip Silverberg, the festival’s founder, thinks there are a few gems worth noting in the program. “Our free Youth Awareness Matinée for senior high school students is always a much awaited event, and this year we are featuring an interactive assembly, using short films, to combat stigma,” said Silverberg. “We are also excited by a new program called Animated Minds that features short films that, in some manner, involve animation in the production.”

The festival will open with a monologue by internationally-renowned comedian Christophe Davidson. Drawing on his own experiences with mental illness for the first time on a public platform, Davidson will talk openly about his own struggles, while incorporating a comedic element.

Silverberg considers this comedy routine, followed by the screening of a Patient’s Rites, to be one of the most powerful parts of the festival’s programming. Patient’s Rites is a musical documentary, and tells the story of a patient who spent nearly two decades in a psychiatric hospital after descending into psychosis.

This year, the festival will also feature a short film by a former Concordia student. Robby Reis, a Montreal-based filmmaker and founder of the Montreal film production company Natali Film, graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in film production from Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. Good Words, directed by Reis, is a short film that looks at what happens when the subject of mental health comes up in a job interview. The short film will be screened on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m.

Since the festival’s inception, Silverberg has noticed a shift in how mental illness is portrayed. “At the local media level, there are increasingly more human interest stories that touch on the positive achievements of those who have mental illness. Although sensational headlines involving fanatic behaviour spike the stigma, on the whole there is a definite trend of acceptance,” Silverberg said.

The festival opens on Tuesday, Oct. 25 with Davidson’s monologue. Tickets for screenings are $10 and can be bought on the festival’s website. Tickets for the opening and closing ceremony days are also available online, although the prices differ.

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