Michael McEwan speaks to Richard Warden, the film lead, about the 2017 Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (10-29 October).
MM - Michael McEwan
RW - Richard Warden
MM Ok, now at Iriss.fm we are going to be hearing about this year's Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film festival and we are joined by Richard warden, who is in the film league and is going to tell us more about the whole festival. So, Richard, thanks for joining us.
RW My pleasure.
MM So, why is it important to have this festival?
RW Well everyone has mental health. Some people have more challenges with it than others, but it is something that impacts upon everyone and we feel it's very important that we look at what the challenges are and what can improve mental health. So, it is a festival that reaches out to everyone and I am sure there is something for everyone in the festival, given how much we put on.
MM And why did you get involved with the festival?
RW I think there are 2 reasons I can give for getting involved with the festival. One is just the practical reason, that I was asked to be a post screening discussion panellist for an event in Paisley a few years ago and that led to me being involved with the Renfrewshire version of the festival, and that led me to get to know the national team and before I knew it I was the Film Curator for the Mental Health Festival, but on a personal level, mental health is something that is very important to me. I have had my own issues with mental health, and so it's a really lovely way for me to combine my interest in film and my personal experience and try to be involved with something that I feel is very helpful to others.
MM So, does this festival happen all over Scotland?
RW We say that it happens all over Scotland, I mean, certainly there are areas that we haven't reached yet, but it's in a lot of places across Scotland. We are really encouraged by the reach that we have and a lot of that has to do with people in various parts of Scotland taking all the work themselves. It's not like we organise everything from the central office here, much of the success of the festival has to do with people in other areas coming up with events and just making sure they are in our brochure and on our website.
MM Well we should say that there are other parts to the festival, like arts and plays and dramas and all that, but we are specifically speaking about film. So, why is film a big part of the festival?
RW I think film is a big part of the festival partly because it started as a film festival, it's very first addition was a weekend of film long before my involvement. Film is a very easy communication device, I mean, people sit in a room and have a collective experience but at the same time they are allowed to have their own thoughts, their own private reactions to film, so there is a combination that we do for most of our screenings, we have a film that addresses mental health in some way and then we have a discussion afterwards. It's not like everyone is obliged to say something but it's really encouraging how open people are about their own experiences and about issues that have come up in the films in a way that you wouldn't necessarily expect, maybe they don't even expect, going into the film, that they would be one of the people speaking afterwards, but there is something about that collective cinematic experience that helps to encourage sharing and sharing of experiences is much of what this festival is about.
MM What would you hope for people that come to see specific films would then take away from the event?
RW I have said before that I think the most important thing about the festival is that feeling of camaraderie, that you are not alone, whatever situation you are in there are others who have experienced that. We show dramas, we show documentaries, we show experimental work, we show animation. No doubt there is going to be a film in the festival that one can relate to in a very personal way. I mean, whether or not there is a discussion afterwards, I think there is always going to be that feeling that these are human beings that have made these films, these are human beings who are watching these films, and there is just such common ground, even with some of the extremes of experiences that people have, so I think it's that feeling that one has other people to talk to about these issues, that can relate to these issues that people have and also, I mean, it's important also to have the positive side of being encourage, you know, here is maybe a way that I can improve my life or a way that I can suggest for others to improve their lives. SO, there is a whole rung of emotions that people can have through watching a film and talking about it afterwards or just thinking about it afterwards.
MM I suppose for me, being a person with a disability but also being part of the festival as well, I'm also a big advocate about raising awareness of disability or mental health issues. Certainly, film is a good way of getting that message across. A few years ago, I always speak about Gabrielle, a film that I was involved in for the festival, and that was really powerful and got the message across and I think it opened up people's minds to day centre kind of thing, you know, so that's quite good.
RW I think that one of the most important things that we do is to present work that's not just preaching to the converted, I know that's an overused phrase, but if we are, there are all sorts of arts and festivals that work in various ways, but sometimes we are just putting on a good film that happens to be a good film to use to prompt discussions about mental health and one of the most exciting things is when, say with a wonderful film like Gabrielle, someone decides, oh that looks like a fantastic drama, I will check that out, and then they find out later that it's part of the Mental Health Festival and maybe there is a discussion afterwards that helps to enlighten then and gives greater residence to the film that they have seen. So, film is an excellent way of being able to reach out.
MM I am maybe putting you on the spot here, but you have been involved in the festival for a few years now, and I have been involved in the festival for 2 or 3 years now, can you give us an insight into the films that you have shown in previous years?
RW Sure. I will make an attempt to give a sense of the kinds of films we have shown and how that's developed, that's useful. Originally when I joined the festival, we were picking and choosing particular films that were probably going to make their way to Scotland anyway, connecting with local cinemas and saying, "ok, you are going to show this film, how about you show it through the dates of the festival?", or, "we have heard about this film, what if we were to bring this in for you?", and at the same time, in a parallel way, we've had this international film competition and we were showing clips of those winning films at the award ceremony, but we weren't showing those films. I came in and I thought, as a film maker, I thought it's nice to win an award but it's also very nice to have your film shown, and there was enough work that was being received through the competition and I thought it was very worthwhile to start that happening. So, we started to show selections from the festival, winners a few years ago, then we started showing all of the winners. I mean, as time has gone on you just continue to get a high quality of film coming in that we have to show our entire short list of films, not just the winners, but those that were considered for awards at the late stage, and I shouldn't probably get onto this year's just yet, this is just a build up to this year's festival, but it just really says something about the interest in mental health within film that we are able to programme from the submissions that we get from all around the world. So, we do less proactive work, in a way, but it's really gratifying to have all this material coming to us that we can utilise in a very positive manner.
MM That's one of the questions I would like to know, we will come onto that in a minute, but just give us a brief overview of the types of films that you are going to be showing at the festival this year.
RW It's probably an easier answer to say we have a wide variety of films available, I mean, but it is true, again what we have this year are things that have come to us through our international film competition. So, we have everything from very short animations, to very long feature dramas. The one thing that has really struck me about this year's submissions and what we have chosen to screen from them, is that there is such a confidence and vibrancy in wanting to tell mental health stories. I don't know if it's because mental health has been in the public consciousness more, I mean, the media is having more and more conversations, there doesn't seem to be any kind of shyness. This doesn't mean that all the films are in you face and on the nose, but it just seems that these are films that work as films, whatever you feel about the importance of mental health, I hope you feel it's really important, but also address all sorts of issues that are appropriate for our festival, so it's really exciting to have this quality, and to have this quality from around the world and to have it coming to us, as opposed to us having to seek it out and tell people who we are, people already know who we are and what we are.
MM Second last question from me, I wanted to know this for a couple of years so now I am going to get the answer, you show lots of films, where do you get them from? Do you kind of, not buy them in, but advertise the festival? Because I know the likes of Gabrielle and stuff like that, they get funds from all over the world, so can you tell us how you get them in?
RW Sure. The way that films come to us now is much easier than it used to be in that film makers have these online submission platforms they can use for festivals, so we put our festival on one of these platforms, it's called Film Freeway), and that goes around the world via the internet, and that helps to get our festival out there and known. Certainly, I go to film related events and ensure as best I can to fly the Mental Health festival flag and make people aware that way, we actually haven't had to do too much advertising other than the word of mouth kind of thing that we do and this film submission programme. So, we get in hundreds of films every year and we short list from there and then we choose our winners but then show both the winner's and those other films that were on the short list, so I don't mean to say it's easy, we just sort of sit back and let everything happen, it's a lot of work to go through these films and, certainly, if we see a film that we think is appropriate for our festival we will be in touch with the distribution company, the sales agency, or the producers, and suggest they submit the film to our festival, but it's working really, really well, it's not nearly as difficult to have people know what we are up to and to get a lot of films in to be seen and then for us to programme and have them appreciated by a wider audience than they would be otherwise.
MM Does a member of the public come up to you at the end of the film and give you their feedback or their experience about mental health or maybe a family member? And how is that feedback? I take it it's positive?
RW Yes, I don't know if I have ever had negative feedback. There is just such an appreciation for what we do, the effort we have put in to bring this work to people and, as often as we can, to have these discussions afterwards. So, it's one of the best parts of the job, is having people come up to me afterwards and tell me how grateful they are for having the chance to watch a particular, and largely because they are films that I have said, wouldn't necessarily be seen here, I mean, we are introducing people to films that I think are really important and really worthwhile and have a lot resonance with people, but might not have been found. There a lot of films out there these days, so we act as a filter in a way, we can come up with a programme of films that we think are appropriate for the festival and if people trust us, and they seem to, they get a lot of the cinematic experiences they have at the festival. Yes, there have been a lot of times that people have come up after films and said thank you and, like I say, that's one of the best experience that one has in a festival. It's a hard slog a lot of the times but even just one experience like that makes it worthwhile.
MM Now, every year at the festival it lands in October, this is the last year that it will be October, it's going to be a quick turnaround because it is May next year. The last question would be, every year there is a theme and this year's theme is reclaiming, well remember by me there because I didn't write it down, so, why did you pick that theme?
RW The themes are always interesting, you can imagine it's a hot topic of conversation when we are trying to decide. The idea of the theme is that it's something inspiring, but not too restrictive. I mean, it's not like if someone has a film or another work of art, another initiative that (... unclear) wants to have in the festival, that we are going to say, "ok, where's the (... unclear), or else you can't be in our festival, but yeh, it's just a way to inspire people to think about what they might want to do this year, among the many possibilities that I can suggest that resonates with the idea of reclaim and I guess, for me, reclaim is about positivity, it's about putting oneself forward, it's about not being afraid to be who one is, even if one has had challenges, as I was saying before, we all have to one extent or another, so it's about reclaiming oneself and a pride in whom one is within the mental health context and otherwise. It's a very positive theme and one that, I mean, there is always a conversation and debate around what the theme should be, but I haven't heard anyone complaining about it.
MM Ok, well good luck for the festival.
RW Thanks very much.