For the past 18 years, the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival has provided the city of Toronto the opportunity to delve into the mysteries of the mind by presenting a festival that takes a in-depth look at mental illness and addiction, two issues that are a part of the human experience and affect many ““ if not all ““ of us. Understanding that film and visual art present a unique platform to look at and discuss these issues, festival Co-Founder Lisa Brown and her team strive to present films that will inspire and educate their viewers. I had the opportunity to speak to her about the festival, its history and its place in Toronto. She gave me some insight as to why this issue is so important and gives us her picks for the fest.
Rendezvous with Madness evolved out of Brown’s career as a psychiatric nurse, “I was an atypical nurse,” she says of her motivations to start working with artists who struggle with mental illness and addiction, “I worked nights and we shared our arts in the evenings, from jam sessions, poetry readings, acting. On Friday nights the group in the program would get together and we’d create stuff. That turned into a talent show, which then turned into a need to bring all of these [artists] together in a forum they could participate in.” From this grew her own company, Workman Arts, the festival’s key sponsor. Workman Arts is a multidisciplinary arts organization that supports artists who struggle with mental illnesses and addiction in furthering both their own understanding of these issues, and the understanding of the public. In 1993, she co-founded the film festival as an extension of this desire to educate viewers and engage artists. She describes the festival’s ability to bring together many disciplines as a “convergence of looking at the notion of normalcy and madness and creative genius.”
When asked about whether artists are more likely to suffer from mental illness and addition ““ a question she is asked all the time ““ Brown’s response was varied. “It’s the mad artist and there’s such a romantic notion about that,” she says, “If we accept that one in five people will have a mental illness in their lifetime or a serious addiction, then that’s one in five of all artists, all engineers, all doctors, all young people. I think it’s across the board. Artists are expected to think outside the box and I think that artists really work hard to think outside the box. When you become psychotic or you have a serious mental illness, you’re thinking outside the box [artists with mental illness] have a very rich world to work from. There is a lot of opportunity to mine through their imagination, but I don’t know if I would say that you have to mad to create and create to be mad.” With respect to whether or not a major city, such as Toronto, attracts more artists who may deal with these issues, she very aptly notes, “Because we have a thriving cultural centre here, people tend to gravitate to it. An artist with or without a mental illness is maybe going to want to come and work in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, so we’ll find that there will be more artists with mental illness that will come.”
Brown noted that there seems to be a zeitgeist when it comes to film submissions for the festival, and this year there was a large number of films that dealt with addiction and potential for violence. She took some time to share with us her picks for the fest.
Repeaters (Carl Bessai, 2010) opens the festival on November 5, 2010 with the story of three young addicts in rehab, struggling to deal with an accident that dooms them to live the same day over and over again in an attempt to make amends to the people they have hurt with their addictions. Bessai will be in attendance at the screening to discuss the film.
The Killer Queen (Rodolphe Tissot, 2009) is the story of an unemployed mother-to-be who takes up cards as a way to fill the time, quickly becoming a gambling addict and earning the nickname ““ The Killer Queen. This intimate and vulnerable look at how addiction can take hold will have audiences on the edge of their seats. It screens on Sunday, November 7 at 7:00pm.
Brown noted that she’s very excited about their artist talk Revelations: Living Experience with Mental Illness, Addiction and Creative Genius, an hour and a half long conversation with four visual artists who will discuss what drive them to create and how their experiences with mental illness has affected their lives as artists, including their opportunities for success. This talk is immediately followed by a screening of Rouge Ciel, a film that takes the viewer through the world of “art brut” and destroys the accepted ideas of how artists create. Revelations happens on Monday, November 8, 2010 at 7:00pm, followed by Rouge Ciel at 8:30pm.
Last, Brown noted ““ with great excitement ““ that the festival closes on Saturday, November 13, 2010 with Man of a Thousand Songs, which is the story of musician Ron Hynes and his battle with his alcoholism and drug addiction. “What’s fascinating about this film is how Ron describes his addictions. He talks about “˜Ron the Man’ who is just a regular everyday guy. Then there’s “˜Ron the Performer’ and then there’s “˜Ron the Dark Man.’ He says that that dark side tries to kill off Ron by excessive behavior and substance abuse. The Dark Man is always there, always saying “˜Come on over. Let’s have some cocaine.’” What is truly unique about Rendezvous’ screening of this film is that Hynes himself will be there to perform his song “Dry”, followed by an intimate conversation with a doctor and Hynes, followed up by a concert. For a taste of what you’ll find when you come to this special screening, have a listen to “Dry” below.
In the few minutes that I spent chatting to Lisa Brown, it became clear to me that this festival, like so many in Toronto, is more than a labour of love. It’s a labour of education and awareness; an attempt to bring the world of mental illness and addiction to people in ways that can’t normally be explored. The festival’s full schedule can be found online here. With ticket prices coming in at $10, this is a not-to-be-missed experience.
The Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival runs November 5 to 13, 2010.