Not Through the Glass Darkly - Madness and Film / 21 June 2013
The short documentary film 'Greenhouse of Hearts' came out of a commission from DAO and The Royal Academy.
When I met with Kate Horbury, the then access officer of the RA, she said you have to go visit Portugal Prints, a mental health arts charity, who collaborate with the Royal Academy on a regular basis. So I did.
The first thing that hits you is the warmth of the place, you are instantly accepted as family. So I decided to make a film exploring the heart of Portugal Prints. I could have done a straightforward PR type video, a little advert of the organisation, but I wanted to go deeper than that. When it comes to anything to do with mental health being represented in the media, the heart is totally ignored, people want to see the ‘broken brain’ but sorry here you will see and articulate and compassionate people.
That’s why it is called ‘Greenhouse of Hearts’, because when I first went there, someone said off-camera that their broken heart was learning to grow again at Portugal Prints. That’s the way I feel about ‘madness’, that psychosis has more to do with a broken heart than a broken brain. In a world that tells you your heart should shrink, Portugal Prints wants to let that heart grow. All I did was film it. I wish I had better technical resources to have made the film, most of it was filmed on a £199 camcorder from Argos, but I am very happy with the story and ‘heart’ of the film.
The film took longer than expected to complete as my mental health this year has not been good, the worst it has been for nearly a decade in fact. Though I have a passion for film making, unfortunately it is not the art form most conducive to psychosis.
Earlier this year I made another film about the subjective experience of psychosis called 'Outside', which was shown at the Barbican, as part of a showcase of films made by people with psychosis. One of the other filmmakers there had written his dissertation on ‘mad’ film-makers, well, the lack of them. You have your mad writers and poets, so many in fact, you can fill half a library with them, and the same goes with painters and artists. But cinema has very few filmmakers who regularly experience psychosis.
I think this is true due to several reasons. Psychosis is chaotic and confusing at times, so the less barriers the better, and writing and painting is immediate. When you paint or write, not even your skin is a barrier – you become one with your words and art. Film making, on the other hand, has many barriers, both physical and mental. The physical being a profusion of equipment, like cameras, microphones, lights, etc; and other human beings, as filmmaking involves other people. It is the other human beings that are the bigger obstacle: interpersonal stress; the reality that no one around you sees, hears, or comprehends the world as you do; and people and paranoia don’t tend to get on.
In addition filmmaking is a logical process, full of schedules, linear editing, and linear conversations with the people around you.
But the love of film is still there, even if I can’t do it as a day job because of its challenges. Film needs more ‘madness’ behind the camera then maybe the representation of mental health in front of it will be more truthful.
You can also see 'Greenhouse of Hearts' without subtitles too at http://youtu.be/m4RVA3B-nsU