Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 2012: Walk in My Shoes

The Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival asks audiences to experience the world through different eyes. No art form is better for this task than cinema. We speak to Eddie Harrison, the festival's film programmer, to learn more

Feature by Danny Scott | 01 Oct 2012

With events ranging from a community opera to a bi-polar circus, the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival (SMHAFF) promises an exploration of the mind like no other arts festival can. For its sixth year the largest social justice festival in the world has taken its inspiration from the teachings of Atticus Finch in choosing the theme ‘Walk in My Shoes.’ Experiencing new worlds through another’s eyes is what film does best.

In an enticing film strand Walter Salles’ highly anticipated adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On The Road will tour Scotland with Screen Machine during October and November in a road trip to remote parts of the country. The film is a notable inclusion considering Kerouac’s own battles with depression and alcoholism. When we speak, however, SMHAFF film programmer Eddie Harrison is keen to emphasise the thought behind each celluloid choice. “When you say you’re choosing films that deal with mental health people immediately suggest movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," he tells me. "But that’s a film about mental illness. Ours is a festival about mental health and all films deal with that in the way they show people coping with their problems.”

The critically acclaimed yet rarely seen Anti-Clock (8 Oct, GFT) is one such film. Screening in Glasgow with co-director Jack Bond in attendance, the film explores many mental health issues with its on and off screen narrative as Harrison explains: “Anti-Clock is a strange, difficult yet terrific film. Jack Bond stuck it in a vault when his co-director Jane Arden killed herself a couple of years after it was made. It was ahead of its time in its use of surveillance footage to create a sense of paranoia, and has only recently been reissued by the BFI. It’s one of those great films that doesn’t show goodies and baddies but just people making difficult decisions.”

Bond will stay on at the festival to screen Dalí in New York (8 Oct, Filmhouse), sharing his experiences of succeeding where Walt Disney failed and completing a film with Salivor Dalí. Notable guest curators pepper the programme, choosing some unusual works including Malcolm Middleton’s selection of experimental Dutch film The Sea That Thinks (9 Oct, GLT), previously unseen in the UK. Harrison hopes some of SMHAFF’s screenings with a twist will inspire audiences to take leave of their mental and physical norms. "I’m looking forward to doing a 300-mile round trip to Elgin to our Hugo (14 Oct, The Moray Playhouse) screening. The automatons in the film were actually made up there by The House of Automata and people will get a chance to see these mechanical wonders in action after the film.”

The mechanics of video-games are also on show in discussion panel Walkthrough (15 Oct, Cineworld – Renfrew St.). It's a bold choice. Game sales have long outperformed the box office and in marketing terms it’s becoming harder to distinguish the two, as Harrison outlines: “It’s easy to be snobbish but, for me, games are an art form. I’ve played some games and enjoyed the same level of experience as I do watching a good film. I think more and more filmmakers will be cutting their teeth in the industry in the future. Games have an effect on the player so we need to understand and talk about them so I’m inviting some game creators to show their work on the big screen.”

This whole-hearted engagement with art in all its forms is what makes this festival such a unique proposition. Kerouac wrote in On The Road, “This can’t go on all the time…all this franticness and jumping around. We’ve got to go someplace, find something.” Approaching film, and games, in an honest accessible way, SMHAFF should help audiences achieve just that.

The Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 2012 takes place in venues across Scotland 1–24 Oct. See website for more details