Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival

The 2nd annual Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival proves it's got more than just a tongue twisting title.

Preview by Edward Whelan | 25 Sep 2008

Chances are you know someone who has had some kind of mental health issue effect their life, most of us have. Yet the perception of mental illness is still all about the stigma; enter the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, the largest of its kind in the world, whose programme listings alone raise an eyebrow.

You'd be forgiven for assuming a mental health arts festival might be full of gritty suicide films and bleak photos of run down hospitals; efforts to bring the issues about mental illness to the public have often erred on the side of grim. Good mental health, however, is more than just a lack of illness, it's a welcome necessity, and this positive flipside ripples through the festival, evident in such events as songwriting workshops, green spaces to wander and a travelling art gallery in a bus.

Spread all over the country, from Dumfries to Edinburgh to Perth, the diversity of events highlights the broad range of experiences that effect mental health - dementia, peer pressure, Down's syndrome - and the films in particular also draw attention to the fact that mental health "issues" are often in the mainstream cinema, even when they don't have a big red arrow pointing them out. So "Little Miss Sunshine" and "In the Valley of Elah" are included, dealing with general family dysfuntion and post-traumatic stress respectively in a non-direct, but no less significant way, than say the Lyceum's Macbeth. It's also refreshing to see that the organisers' aren't veering away from the idea that the whole issue can also be downright comical. Indeed, there's a special comedy night at The Stand in Glasgow, as well as a one performance only return for David Benson's much loved play My Life with Kenneth Williams.

There's plenty more than just films and plays; musicians, writers, comedians and multimedia artists, many creating pieces in collaboration with mental health service users, are all involved in coordinating many beautiful and fascinating events. Music Like a Vitamin, taking place over two nights in ABC, Glasgow, has some of Scotland's best musos doing their thing, including Fence Collective Artist Kenny Anderson, Rod Jones (Idlewild), Norman Jones (Tennage Fanclub) and the BMX Bandits; an excellent line up of Scottish writers take part in series of afternoon sessions in The Mitchell Library; and an International Women's Photography Exhibit goes up in Dundee.

There is an understated sense of integration in the programme. The writers, artists and film makers here are not separate from the 'service users' (the politically correct term for those that need mental health services), but have no doubt been or known someone who's been a 'user' themselves. How they coped, and how their experiences are translated through their films or photographs or songs demonstrates the important blurring of the lines between 'us and them', a line that never really existed in the first place. Oh, and did we mention that 99% of said events are free? Check it out.