Manic

In a case of perfect timing with the Bell Talks campaign in regards to mental illness just happening, the documentary film by Kalina Bertin (Byblos) Manic is being released in Montreal. The very moving film has a very realistic feel to it, which is kind of a strange thing to say about a documentary as that would seem inherent to the genre, but it truly does. Emotion just oozes off the screen while you are watching this investigation by the director about mental illness and her family. It is so personal. So intimately constructed.

Kalina has been surrounded by mental illness her whole life. One of her brothers and her older sister are both manic depressives/bipolar. It got to a point where she felt compelled to do something as it was destroying her and her family. Living with this her entire life, now she turns towards her father as the key to answers she needs. With this starting point set out, Kalina, a filmmaker, goes about the investigation of her father the way she best knows how – by making a documentary film.

Her father has lived many lives it seems. First off, he has fathered fifteen children with a variety of women. Also, during his adult life he was known as a con man, prophet and cult leader. Right away you can see this is not going to be your typical mental illness documentary. As she unpeels the layers of the man that is her father, Kalina discovers that how seductive a personality he possessed, which explains his power over women. The man knew how to manipulate people. A professional and skilled liar. He was also diagnosed as bipolar. The goal with all this is to hope that by uncovering her family’s past it will help with the present.

As a young family they lived on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. When their mother and father divorced she took the kids back to her home town of Montreal. Seemingly her father was really intrigued by filmmaking as well because it seems like he was always filming himself and his children. There is a lot of footage which really allows you as the viewer to understand the strong relationship between Kalina and her father when she was young.

Back in Montreal the family went through tough times. Kalina’s brother Francois and sister Felicia both were diagnosed as bipolar. The more that Kalina, as she got older, began to want to know about the family’s past the less her mother was willing to talk about it. Still Kalina wanted to understand. So she not only began to attend UQAM as a film student, but began to film her family.

Kalina keeps her camera running while both of her siblings are in crisis. She rarely, unless they ask her to, turns it off because things are becoming too uncomfortable. You actually feel the filmmaker going through the process of understanding her life and her family’s while the camera is capturing these moments. The process also seemed to bring Kalina, Francois and Felicia back closer together. Is quite something to watch. A true window into this family’s life.

Mental illness is such a complex issue. Using home movies shot years ago by her father, interviews with family members and family scenes that unfurled before her camera. It results in a drama that is very compelling. Your heart breaks a million times while watching this. So personal and leaves the family completely exposed. Kalina learns about her father’s diagnosis as bipolar (twice) and that her paternal grandfather, who had served in World War II, had PTSD and manic depression.

The construction of the film brought Kalina to Hawaii, where her father had lived, and Thailand, where he died. While there she reaches out to some of her half-siblings and their mothers. Speaking with them fills in some of the gaps about her father and life he lived. This reconnecting seems to have been very healing for all involved. Peace has been achieved. Example of the power of film…for maker and watcher.

Manic has made the tour of film festivals, screening at eight of them. Getting a positive response at all of them, including local one the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival, it won a couple of awards at Toronto’s Hot Docs and the Brooklyn Film Festival. It is also a Canadian Screen Award nominee. Now it gets a well earned released on the big screen here in Kalina’s home town.

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