Au Contraire Film Festival opens with comedic appeal

The film festival addresses the issue of mental illness through the visual medium

Stand-up comic Christophe Davidson gave a humorous and personal insight into his struggles with mental illness during his performance on the opening night of the Au Contraire Film Festival at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 25. The festival aims to change our view on mental illness.

Davidson said the first sign of his mental illness manifested itself as he was about to board a plane from Singapore to Cambodia, during a comedy tour in Southeast Asia.  He said he He said he thought that, rather than filling out the forms at security, he would do chi for about 45 minutes in front of the security guards.  He recognized his actions as a sign that he was unhinged, and returned home to seek the help he needed.  He joked that, after a year and a half in treatment, he still isn’t sure he is bipolar.  He refers to it as his, “bipolar bear,” since it can track him down from miles away come back into his life. “So right now it might be miles down the Arctic tundra and maybe it will find me again,” said Davidson.

A screening of the musical documentary Patient’s Rites immediately followed Davidson’s comedy routine. The film portrays the personal experience of Issa Ibrahim, its director. Ibrahim was involuntarily admitted for 20 years to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, in New York, after being found innocent by reason of insanity for the murder of his mother.  This insightful and informative film offers an armchair view into Ibrahim’s world as he struggled with mental illness, and attests to the healing power of art as a form of therapy.  In the film, Ibrahim describes himself as “a psychiatric survivor.”

He wrote the lyrics and composed the music for the film. In the opening scene, Ibrahim sings a song that contains catchy but jarring lyrics, accompanied by guitar.  This song gives the audience insight into his state of mind.

Songs and monologues move the story along, while the images show Ibrahim using the various forms of art expression he learned while hospitalized, to help him to understand his illness and to his crime of killing his mother.  Ibrahim then embarks on the long process of taking control of his life.

Patient’s Rites concludes on a positive note with Ibrahim stating his determination to continue to create and use his art as a therapy for mental illness.

After the screening, an informative Q&A session with Davidson and Ibrahim took place with Dr. Karl Looper, chief of the department of psychiatry at the Jewish General Hospital, and Dr. Harvey Giesbrecht, a psychoanalyst, as moderators. A reception followed.

This opening gala was a benefit for the Donald Berman Up House, which provides support to people suffering from mental illness.

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