The 15th annual Rendez-vous with Madness Film Festival is currently running until November 17th in Toronto. The films portray various aspects of mental illness and addiction. This year’s international program focuses on “cultural taboos; films by and about young people– coping, understanding, and negotiating the worlds within and without.”
The festival is held in the Workman Theatre at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The Theatre is named for Dr. Joseph Workman who was Medical Superintendent of the institution from 1853 until 1875. The site on Queen Street West dates back to 1850 when the Provincial Lunatic Asylum was opened on the property, the first purpose-built psychiatric institution in what was Canada West (today the province of Ontario).
The program this afternoon, “The Writing on the Wall,” focused on aspects of the history of psychiatric treatment. Two films were shown: “The Wall Project” and “The Madness of King George.”
The first was a 2-minute short produced by Kathleen Mullen, Jane Kim and Chris McCarrol, three film students at York University. It followed Dr. Geoffrey Reaume during one of his tours of the brick wall that was built by patients in the nineteenth century and is one of the only remaining architectural elements of the original asylum building. Reaume is an Assistant Professor in the Critical Disability Studies program at York University and one of the founders of the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto. He has written extensively on the history of the Toronto Asylum with focus primarily on the patients.
The second film was the 1994 feature-film debut of Nicholas Hytner that portrays King George III’s battle with mental illness in the late eighteenth century (today presumed to have been a case of porphyria). The film won both the Oscar and Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award (Helen Mirren), among a number of other nominations.
A panel discussion followed the films. Panel discussants included Kathleen Mullen (filmmaker of The Wall Project), Lucy Costa (Outreach Worker for the Empowerment Council at CAMH and co-founder of the Mad Students Society), and Dr. Andy Gotowiec (senior resident in the University of Toronto’s Psychiatry program) with Risa Shuman as moderator (retired Senior Producer of TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies and former Board of the Workman Arts member). The discussion focused on societal perspectives of individual’s with mental illness.