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MindFest event celebrates mental health at U of T

The film "I am, period," directed by Alexandre Dostie, is part of the multimedia offerings at U of T's MindFest on May 6 (image courtesy Alexandre Dostie)

Mental health steps into the spotlight at U of T’s inaugural mental health fair.

MindFest is a full-day event on May 6 celebrating the university’s engagement in National Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Department of Psychiatry and Hart House.

“We see this as an opportunity to provide education and engagement with our communities regarding mental health and addictions and enter into a dialogue around these important issues,” said Dr. Molyn Leszcz, professor and vice-chair, clinical, at U of T’s Department of Psychiatry. “MindFest reflects our department’s commitment to be advocates regarding mental health and foster meaningful exchange with consumers, clients and other providers-- to reduce stigma and remove barriers to care.”

The event’s diverse programming includes an art crawl, film screenings, training and exercises from U of T experts, as well as panel discussions and lectures from U of T’s Dr. Kenneth Fung, author Jan Wong, broadcaster Steve Paikin, mental health advocate Eric Windeler of The Jack Project, and others.

“We hope to provide information and knowledge and we hope to learn from those who attend MindFest how we can do more to improve care and improve access to care by reducing barriers – be they personal attitudes, social and cultural values or structural ones,” said Leszcz.

Issues such as depression, stress, mood disorders and suicide prevention will be addressed through installations, screenings, talks, discussions and interactive sessions. (Click here for full schedule)

“The University of Toronto Department of Psychiatry is a world leader in both clinical training and research with unparalleled breadth of expertise literally stretching from the cellular to the community level,” said Leszcz. “We are proud of our contributions and excited about MindFest and the participation of many of our colleagues who share our commitment to reducing stigma and improving access to better understanding and to better and earlier interventions.”

Workman Arts, an arts and mental health company, will help present visual and film arts as well as artist talks and busking throughout the day.

Matthew Hogue, manager of media arts at Workman Arts, spoke with U of T News about the film programming at MindFest.

What is Workman Arts and how does film fit into the mix?

Workman Arts facilitates aspiring, emerging and established artists with mental illness and addiction issues to develop and refine their art form through its arts training programs, public performance and exhibit opportunities. As well, Workman Arts promotes a greater public understanding of mental illness and addiction through the creation, presentation and discussion of the artistic media. In film this is best reflected in our annual Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival which showcases cinematic perspectives from within Canada and all over the world. 

What kind of challenges have the filmmakers you’ve worked with had to overcome in producing their films? 

I don’t think our artists have experienced many setbacks over and above what any first-time or emerging filmmaker might experience. I think that technical challenges, and overcoming artistic frustrations are a normal part of any creative process and as they acclimatized to the medium, many thrived, which I think is reflected in the finished films.

Are there any common themes or messages in the films being screened at MindFest?

Beyond the shared cinematic focus on mental health issues, what stands out most to me is that each of the films we’re screening is Canadian and represent a cross-section of a national cinematic perspective of mental health issues going back ten years; from both emerging and established filmmakers. That said, I’m probably most excited to see the Portraits of Extraordinary Minds Documentary Shorts program. Each of these films was created by an emerging filmmaker through the training programs at Workman Arts over the last 18 months. Knowing that many of these are artists’ first films, I’m astounded by how profound, engaging and beautiful they are.

(Trailer of Welcome to Reality, by Casey Malvern, one of the shorts presented by Workman Arts)

What does the line-up have to offer to a viewer who may not have experience with mental health issues?

Audiences unfamiliar with mental health issues can expect an engaging and entertaining introduction to the them. Beyond their common themes, these films represent some of the best work on mental health by Canadian filmmakers and I’m confident that their engaging storytelling and compelling approaches to the issues will be appreciated by anyone who loves movies.

What do you hope viewers will take away from the Workman Arts programming at MindFest?

In my experience, film is a good way to introduce issues as complex and challenging as mental illness and addiction. Obviously, as artistic interpretations, short films can’t reflect the entire experience, but it is our hope that between the films and the conversations that follow them, that the audience will walk away with a greater appreciation of mental health and more empathy towards those who live with mental health issues.