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Rendezvous with madness

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Since 1993, the annual Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (RMF) has been expanding the minds of Torontonians and shedding light on the discussion of mental illness and addiction. Films will be screened for the first time exclusively at TIFF Bell Lightbox from Nov. 10 to 15.

The festival provides a forum for artists to exhibit work that otherwise may not be showcased. Currently the largest film festival of it’s kind, RMF was co-founded by Kathleen Fagan and Workman Arts’ executive/artistic director Lisa Brown.

The festival is a signature event of the Workman Arts Project of Ontario, which began as a small theatre company with only eight members. Workman Arts has been challenging perceptions of mental illness through the arts since 1987.

At the opening gala reception on Nov. 10, Rocks in my Pockets was shown, a film by Latvian-turned-New Yorker filmmaker Signe Baumane. Her animated films are inspired by her own experiences with mental health issues, as she was diagnosed as manic-depressive eight months after giving birth.

Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival programming manager Jeff Wright said, “we had a sold out crowd, fantastic Q and A…I’m very happy about how it seems to be going this year.”

The festival is partnered with the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), as well as community partners such as Toronto Black Film Festival, CAMH First Episodes Psychosis clinic and CAMH Addiction Medicine Services. It also has government support through funding from the Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council.

Peter Kingstone, visual and media arts officer for the Toronto Arts Council said, “we’ve been sponsoring (RMF) since ’95, and it’s an applicant based process so they applied in ’95 and were accepted, and now they are an operating client.”

This year, RMF shines a spotlight on mental health and sports, kicking off Friday Nov. 14 with the Canadian premiere of No No: A Dockumentary, which is about former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, Dock Ellis. Saturday follows with a sports symposium beginning with keynote speaker Kendra Fisher, former Canadian National Women’s Hockey program goaltender, about her experience with severe anxiety disorder. Later on, Paul Gilmartin, host of podcast The Mental Illness Happy Hour, interviews former NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk. Following the podcast will be the Canadian premiere of Tapia, a documentary that delves into the innermost thoughts of Johnny Tapia, a five-time world champion boxer.

“I think it’s a really important topic right now, I think it will bring out a broader audience that may not have thought about that because sports athletes are usually thought of as superhuman beings being paid millions of dollars to preform at high levels,” said Wright. “But with that expectation comes with a lot of mental stress, so I think it’s going to be a really fascinating couple of days at the end of the festival.”

There’s something about movies that allows people to connect and relate in ways other artistic avenues do not allow.

Movies are a unique artistic avenue.

“Film is the most easily relatable art form, I think there’s a directness to it that people relate to very quickly…you can see the way people are dealing with the representations of mental illness or addictions that we show in the films…I think it’s a very direct way to get the point across,” said Wright.

The initiatives of RMF help break down the stigma of mental illness, and the Q and A periods allow for a lot of professional and audience connection.

“We get a varied collection of viewpoints to start a discussion with the public and I think that educating (them), … the public educating themselves and feeling freer to discuss mental illnesses is a big step that we’re moving towards right now,” said Wright. “Ten years ago people wouldn’t have spoken as frequently about a family member or even their own mental illness. The stigma is slowly becoming less overwhelming.”

The RMF is a great opportunity for the people of Toronto to hear from underrepresented communities and become more accepting of mental illness and addiction. The festival offers a unique perception as one bipolar filmmaker put it, “The fact that I have my highs and my lows allows me to understand the middle.”

 

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.