‘I wasn’t fighting with nobody but myself because I didn’t want to die,’ says Josúe, a man who was once paralysed and left for dead in the Mexican desert. Instead, he survived to become the honest voice of Dead When I Got Here, which receives its European premiere as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.
Presented in partnership with Document International Human Rights Film Festival, the screening takes place at Flourish House, a Clubhouse that welcomes people with mental ill-health and provides a safe environment where members can socialise and work together. It generously opens its doors to this event and could not be more appropriately befitted to show this film.
Dead When I Got Here documents a Mexican asylum run by the patients themselves, focusing on Josúe as he cares for the other patients and recovers from drug addiction. He is deeply involved with the asylum, making sure patients get along well together, talking with them about recovery, and, in essence, helping to run the asylum. The film closely explores his experience of recovery, from the man who once ended up almost dead in the desert to someone with so much empathy that it’s hard not to feel moved by his story.
The film also takes a look at Ciudad Juárez, where the asylum’s patients are from, a city that is mostly abandoned, with shelled out buildings. Juárez is one of the world’s bloodiest cities, where ‘everybody’s killing each other’, and it is here that insanity prevails. Josúe visits the place where he used to get high, sleep, and hide from the police. Now it is rubble littered with needles. He visits an old friend, asking about the other neighbors, but everyone is dead, has been in jail or is ‘around’. ‘If I could return to the past as I am now,’ Josúe says to the friend, ‘imagine’. The contrast of a city with no people to an asylum with 114 residents who are like a family – shaving each other, helping each other dress, hugging each other – is stark.
During filming of Dead When I Got Here, Josúe asks the filmmakers to help him search for his daughters in California who he has not seen in 22 years. Through advertisements online, they were able to find one of them. Josúe anticipates meeting his daughter, knowing that he left her behind during his days of drug addiction. Leading up to the reunion, he says that he will ‘take it like a man’. When Josúe meets her, they look at pictures of her childhood and catch up on lost time. Finally, he asks her for forgiveness.
Dead When I Got Here is a humane documentary that looks at mental illness from the perspective of a man who regains his dignity through empathy for others, forgiveness of his past and ultimately the strength to move forward.
Written by Eleanor Streicker
Dead When I Got Here receives its European Premiere at 7pm on Thursday 15th October at Flourish House in Glasgow. Following the screening, there will be a Q&A discussion with director Mark Aitken.