After twenty six packed days presenting over three hundred events in seventeen regions across Scotland, the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival 2013 has drawn to a close –and early reports show that more people than ever before have engaged with events across the country.
If you joined us, you’ll know the line-up of the seventh SMHAFF included a diverse selection of events from both new and familiar faces, encompassing theatre, film, visual art, literature, comedy and much more. Unique in Scotland, the SMHAFF is about promoting great art; aiming to encourage dialogue around mental health and wellbeing – issues often still subject to stigma and neglect. In this way, the SMHAFF has become one of the largest social justice festivals in the world.
This year, after a fantastic launch from Inverness’ Eden Court theatre, the national scope of the Festival was more evident than ever before. Our film programme exceeded expectations and presented well-attended screenings not only in our stalwart central belt venues, Glasgow’s GFT and Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, but around the country. Highlights included Alan Berliner’s newest offering, First Cousin Once Removed, accompanied by insightful discussions with the acclaimed director himself; the Scottish premiere of Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple’s Running From Crazy; Renfrewshire’s very successful one-day symposium on Scottish film (GRRR: Gritty Reality Retrospective in Renfrewshire); and the chance for pupils at Beath High School, Fife, to learn more about the effects of the 1926 General Strike on three tight-knit families in The Happy Lands.
We also welcomed a stellar selection of touring theatre productions this year, which visited venues around the country accompanied by discussions with theatre-makers and experts around the subjects raised. A special double-bill at Glasgow’s Tramway opened the Festival, featuring two very different pieces focusing on the effects of mental illness on an individual, Mirror Mirror and Mental; Horse + Bamboo theatre presented a powerful story of the agony of PTSD and the healing power of art in Angus McPhee: Weaver of Grass, while Strange Theatre/Plutôt La Vie’s Couldn’t Care Less (which continues to tour until Nov 2) was a heartfelt insight into the difficulties of living with Alzheimer’s, both for the sufferer and those loving family members who become carers. Elsewhere, Random Accomplice’s See Thru Sam brought a one young person’s fantasy-filled perspective on grief to venues in Greenock and Glasgow, while powerful drama Inside Out took an unflinching look at real- life experiences of people with mental health issues in locations around Ayrshire and Arran.
Other Festival highlights from around the regions included Renfrewshire’s Gilmour Street Station Giants art installation which found the station platform populated by giant thought-provoking sculptures created by artists with mental health lived experiences, while Moray’s ‘Feelgood Festival’ brought music to the streets of Elgin with the fantastic Buskfest, promoting positive mental health and music by way of a didgeridoo player, the over-60s Joyful Noise choir and even a yoga teacher! Summerhall Gallery’s Out of Sight/Out of Mind exhibition drew crowds with its brilliant and challenging exhibitions from artists with mental health issues, and in Forth Valley, Our Creative Road brought participants from all over the region a wonderful night of words, music, drama, comedy, art, and poetry.
For the first time this year the SMHAFF also partnered with Glasgow’s Aye Write! Festival to create a packed literature weekend at the Mitchell Library hosting events from both newcomers – including Jenni Fagan, whose debut novel The Panopticon had her named as one of Granta’s top 20 best young British novelists – and stalwarts of the Scottish literary scene, such as the redoubtable Alasdair Gray.
And, as always, the Festival drew to a close with the SMHAFF International Film Awards Ceremony. The only award of its kind, the SMHAFF film submission gives filmmakers from around the globe the platform to address issues of mental health and wellbeing using the accessibility and creativity of film in all its forms. This year the Film Awards honoured entries from home and abroad, with Scottish entries being both winners and highly commended in the new Youth Perspective category, beside a double win for Spanish filmmakers Sergio Caro, Fernando Urena and Ernesto Villalba and their heartwrenching film Pe&Fu: Memoirs of a Heart, which won both Best Short Documentary and the 2013 Jury Prize.
As the SMHAFF continues to expand and grow, the Festival team is proud to be supporting the beginnings of a number of new festivals all over the world. This year saw the launch of a mental health festival in Northern Ireland, London’s Anxiety festival 2014 will launch next year and in the next few years, South Wales and Lithuania both hope to hold mental health arts festivals of their own. Maybe we’ll see you there?