Au Contraire Film Festival can be seen as a real niche event. That would be doing it a disservice. Mental illness affects everyone. We either suffer from it or have it in our family, circle of friends or even at work. This festival tries to shine the spotlight on the real picture of mental illness. Removing the stigma and falsehoods associated with it. Challenges us to see it as it is.
The films screened here are all from directors who deal with the subject of mental illness and all in different ways. It is also the only fully bilingual (French and English) film festival centered around the subject of mental illness in the world. There are no prizes awarded in the festival as it sees as its mandate to encourage discussion around the subject while at the same time educating viewers.
On this Friday evening at a great theatre within the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, it was an evening entitled “Animated Minds”, which featured a Re-Animation workshop, a series of short films, followed by a panel discussion, and capped off by the closing party.
First film was from Swedish director Anna Johansson and entitled Shadowlands. 15 minutes in length it said a lot in a short time. The animated film had as its subject the darkness within humans. The light comes from acknowledging it and others showing you that you are not alone. In the film the darkness is a black bird. It causes you to want to just stay in bed with the covers over your head. You just want to feel well like everyone else, but your doctor keeps asking if you want to go on a medical leave from work. Darkness just won’t let you go. You are living with the constant fear that something awful is right around the corner. She just wants to be seen for who she is and have someone reach out to convince her she is not alone. The film is based on the writer/director Johansson’s own dealings with an anxiety disorder.
Next up was an even shorter film. In only three minutes Blue Light by Harriet Croucher deals with emergency service workers who have to deal with post traumatic stress disorder. Another animated film that comes from the U.K. Using traditional hand drawn animation, she shows how the police and firemen have to put themselves in dangerous situations and then deal with the aftermath largely on their own. PTSD is not really something we know that much about and as such support is not readily available for those suffering from it. In a short time the drawings really make you feel how jarring and frantic the situations are that these workers have to deal with.
Another three minute film from the U.K. followed. Fractured by Jocie Juritz deals with how psychological difficulties don’t always make sense. Emotional problems often manifest themselves in physical ways. We follow a woman out for the evening with friends. Each physical contact she has with other humans leaves its mark on her. She becomes fractured. She is coming apart at the cracks. Tries her best to keep things together. The irrational thoughts going on are often masked or hidden from others. As such the person suffering from them becomes divided or fractured. The 2D animation is done by computer, but made to look hand drawn.
Paniek from Joost Lieuwma of the Netherlands is a more traditional looking animated short. Looks like a cartoon. For five minutes we are pulled through the world of a woman dealing with worries that are always there. It veers towards the comical. A woman is leaving on a short holiday and is consumed by worries. Worries about what could possibly go wrong at her home while she is gone. The worries turn into a full blown panic attack. They don’t happen, but the worries don’t quiet down.
A little bit longer at 11 minutes, Whatever the Weather by Remo Scherrer deals with an eight-year-old girl living with her alcoholic mother and the resulting nightmares she suffers from. The Swiss director combines stark black and white illustrations along with a voice over. Captures perfectly the confusion of the eight-year-old. Not really understanding what alcoholism is all about. Just wanting her mother to stop drinking. As the drinking continues the more of a mess the young child’s life becomes. To counteract all this chaos she tries desperately to keep her own life as normal as possible. It is not possible with all the ups and downs and demands she deals with at home. She begins a struggle for survival.
The Philadelphia Association resisted for a long time the pharmacological or diagnostic model. Critical Living directed by Alex Widdowson investigates modern day psychology and its tendency towards over medication and over diagnosis. Using very dark replacement stop motion, as you are watching you feel the tension Widdowson builds upon. The London filmmaker aptly combines art and social issues.
French animator Cyprien Clement-Delmas brings us Drifting Away. A 14 minute film which deals with a son who dreams of sailing with his father. When his father becomes depressed he literally dissolves in front of Paul’s eyes. Paul brings his father on his journey and tries to heal his entire family at the same time. Using beautiful almost paint-like animation alongside more traditional looking animation really results in a treat for your eyes. Drifting Away won best international short film award at Animaze – Montreal International Animation Film Festival.
Rounding out the films was The Bridge Over the River by Swiss animator Jadwiga Kowalska. A six minute short that tells the tale of a man separated from his love by a bridge. Wanting desperately to be with her he decides to cross that bridge to seek her out…in the hereafter. No dialogue in the is largely black and white with small splashes of colour six minute short.