Memories and Dreams: Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 2011

In its fifth year, <b>The Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival</b> has established itself as a key event on Scotland’s cultural calendar. The Skinny previews its film strand, the ideal art form to explore this year's theme of memories and dreams

Feature by Alan Bett | 28 Sep 2011

Since cinema’s inception it has portrayed the intricate interiors of our minds — we need only look to the dream logic of Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou. Hopes, dreams, anxieties and nightmares have been trapped in celluloid and projected onto the silver screen over the last century. So, it seems only fitting that film is a primary medium used by the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival (SMHAFF) to achieve its goals. Those admirable objectives are to stimulate discussion on mental health through a variety of arts events running throughout October.  The festival's film strand director, Eddie Harrison, backs cinema as a key tool. “It’s amazing how well cinema gets people talking... [it] breaks down barriers and allows audiences to take part in positive discussion.”

It’s the differing opinions expressed in these debates which enhance our awareness of this delicate subject matter. There are many misconceptions around mental health, and cinema has not always shown its actuality through the clearest lens. Mental illness has all too often been used to horrific or comic effect.  Even Polanski’s portrayal of a fractured mind in Repulsion, or Sara Goldfarb’s slow descent into hell in Requiem for a Dream show highly stylised visions of truly frightening realities.  Harrison agreed that films frequently stigmatise by resorting to over-the-top stereotypes, but his festival has painted with a broader brush. “The SMHAFF looks at mental health generally, and mental illness is only a part of that.”

Curating with the guidance of Dr Peter Byrne (psychiatrist and senior lecturer at University College London), Harrison has chosen films which deal sensitively with the themes of memory, sleep and dreams. This includes Away From Her (16 Oct, Filmhouse), Sarah Polley’s subtle study of Alzheimer’s effects. There is also Stand by Me (8 Oct, Eden Court, Inverness), Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (20 Oct, Paisley Arts Centre) and Bill Forsyth’s Scottish classic Local Hero (23 Oct, Filmhouse), a film Harrison describes as “a story about how a community’s memories provide a sense of identity.”

Particularly refreshing, this festival has no geographical boundaries within Scotland. Events take place in Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and the Highlands, alongside the usual Central Belt venues. These events address topical issues which are relevant to these communities such as veterans' post-conflict struggles and the consequences of drug addiction. Film is so often a Rorschach sketching, some see the endless possibilities of chance, the wonders of the universe; others view only a solitary blob of ink. As long as these disagreements lead to discussion and understanding then the SMHAFF will have done its job.

Scottish Mental Heath Arts & Film Festival takes place 1-24 Oct at venues across Scotland. See their website for more details