Talking Heads

In partnership with the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival and NHS Lothian, new magazine She is Fierce held the most spectacular launch night in Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall on Thursday 20 October. The theme of the evening was Wonderland – also the theme of the launch issue, which is currently with the printers – and, fittingly, a white rabbit holding an oversized pocket watch was outside the entrance to greet us all as we arrived.

With suits of armour, lavish paintings, and rich furnishings, the surroundings were certainly magnificent, but the real excitement was all to do with the people. There was an incredible mood of enthusiasm and anticipation.

We were welcomed by an incredible squad of girls from Simon Says Dance, a company that teaches dance to 450 dancers across Edinburgh and the Lothians each week, to get the evening underway.

This is the third year that SMHAFF has been welcomed into the castle and its Governor, Major General M L Riddell-Webster, welcomed everyone and spoke briefly about how important mental health and wellbeing are to the armed forces.

Next up was Hannah Taylor, proud founder of She is Fierce, which she described “a magazine collective for girls, by girls”. She spoke with anger and frustration about the mainstream media and the messages that it sends to young women. She urged us all to think about whether or not this was what we really want to teach our girls.

Herself a mother of a 10-year-old girl, Hannah discussed the way that her daughter always feels good about expressing herself however she wants to, and she doesn’t want her to lose this. Hannah herself used to be bolshy like her wee girl, but, at some point along the way, she lost that bolshiness in trying to assimilate with everyone else, for example, in pretending to like Backstreet Boys, rather than old-school hip hop. This assimilation is only encouraged by the media and, as Hannah says, the bottom line is that “the media are not doing a good enough job when it comes to our girls”.

Hannah’s Kickstarter campaign for the magazine was fully funded within just three weeks. Organisations such as TEDx and the NHS have lent their support to She is Fierce and the limited edition zine, Minus One, which came out in earlier in the year was extremely well received. Hannah acknowledges that “finding your tribe is not always easy” and that She is Fierce is all about letting girls create their own media.

MC for the evening was Emily Millichip, an Edinburgh-based independent fashion designer. As well as doing a fabulous job of introducing everybody, she spoke very eloquently about how the media currently specialises in the “commercialisation of insecurity”. However, Emily also drew attention to the opportunities that the internet affords for people to put power in their own hands and deconstruct some of the old hierarchies. Emily shared an important lesson that she has learned, that you are at your absolute strongest when you’re being who you are.

The next treat was a selection of songs from Amy Louise Rogers, a young singer-songwriter from Fife. She shared a “couple of happy songs” with us, including a brilliant mash up of Tom Jones’ She’s a Lady and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun that she’d put together especially for the evening.

Natalya and Fiona from Pyrus were next to speak and they are delighted to be featured in the first issue of She is Fierce. They are botanical stylists and flower growers and spoke about the path they had taken from art college, to meeting each other when working in a flower shop, to setting up on their own. Natalya and Fiona both became disillusioned with the floral industry and, in particular, the exploitation of poorer countries where flowers were grown and the mass-produced nature of so much of what was deemed beautiful.

Pyrus is now five years old and they’ve just expanded, taking on a three acre walled garden, a move that Fiona explained essentially takes them from gardening to farming. There are lots of arms to the business, from weddings and events, to set-design and installation pieces. The overwhelming – and inspirational – message the girls shared was that you never have to be pigeon-holed, you can always forge your own path.

The multitalented Rebecca Monks spoke next, a playwright, writer, journalist and spoken word performer. She shared a short spoken piece from her Edinburgh Fringe show Tyke, which tells the story of an elephant who – after 20 years of abuse – killed her trainer on stage. Rebecca spoke a little about the process of putting the play on and she shared some really important points about creativity with the audience, in particular some reasons why you should spend time writing:

1. It’s rewarding.
2. It’s important to share stories.
3. It’s an excellent way to express yourself, and a way to help with mental health.
4. Because girls who write are fierce.

We were treated to more dancing next, performed by the Mini Jackers from Ashley Jack’s dance company Jackin’ The Box, before talented young poet Aischa Daughtery performed the poem she wrote for the magazine, ‘Pretty girls don’t cry’. It was a beautifully dark poem about identity and self-esteem and it is well worth getting hold of a copy of She is Fierce to read it.

Ailsa Stratton, teacher and director of Thrive Wellbeing addressed the crowd next, speaking about purpose and how to work out who you want to be. A few years ago, she started to become concerned about what was happening to our young women and about the ways in which schools were not helping young people to flourish. This led her to start her business Thrive Wellbeing and explore the Japanese idea of Ikigai: the concept that where your passion, mission, vocation and profession meet is your purpose. I loved what she said in closing, that you will be happier and healthier if you find your passion and do what motivates you.

Edinburgh Dance Academy rounded off the evening with some fabulously choreographed routines, before the final speaker of the night, Linda Irvine from NHS Lothian, beautifully summed what we had seen. She stressed how important it is that we all look after ourselves and each other. Her final message to the assembled crowd was: “Keep your hair messy and your heart curious!”

by Rachel Alexander

 

Click here to order a copy of She is Fierce - The Wonderland Issue.

There’s something oddly comforting about sitting with a stranger and talking about death. Filmmaker and visual artist Theresa Moerman Ib has curated a selection of short films about loss and death for Good Grief, an event that will take place at Edinburgh Printmakers on Saturday 29 October. “Good grief”, in the curator’s own words, “is when people are allowed to talk about their loss and express their emotions. We just have to remember it’s always the conversation and the openness about it that can help us through it.” As such, the event aims to encourage dialogue about mortality.

Sitting in the CCA cafe, Theresa talked about her own experiences with loss: “I lost my grandparents and my uncle and my dad. I feel like death has been really close in a really short period of time for me. One of the things I realised, especially when I lost my dad, was that there wasn’t much acceptance among others to talk about grief. People were scared and thought ‘we better not talk about it because she might cry’. I guess it’s just our culture, you don’t really talk about these things. Death becomes something that’s just unfortunate, something you just have to push away”.

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The short films in the programme have been selected from the 1,600 submissions received by the SMHAFF this year, a number that shows people’s willingness and desire to share their stories. Including titles from Iran, Switzerland, Iraq and Ireland, as well as the UK, this short collection shows the human and global nature of grief. Theresa said: “It’s like there’s a common ground somewhere and we can meet through the act of filmmaking.”

Among the dramas (Ali Kareem Obaid’s crISIS and Jon Barton’s Grey Area) and documentaries (Theresa’s own The Third Dad and (When You’re Not Here) Everything Has a Flatness), Good Grief showcases two touching silent animations: Claudius Gentinetta’s Islander’s Rest and Afshin Roshanbakht and Vahid Jafari’s Lima. Depicting emotions through the use of colours, scores and countless details, while purposely neglecting words, these two films prove that grief can be shared with and understood by anyone, regardless of their own experiences.

Part of the reason festivals like the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival are so important is that they give independent filmmakers the chance to be heard, especially when it comes to important or delicate topics. But they also offer people the chance to see incredible works – often ignored because they are difficult to sell – which can truly talk to the audience and inspire them to change.

The Third Dad

To end our conversation, Theresa gave a good example of this happening: “Last year at the festival there was a film about suicide called Silence of the Flies. There wasn’t a huge audience, but by the end of the film a woman was saying how important it was for her to have seen it, because suddenly she could see what her father had been going through. She said she would relate to him differently now. And that’s the power of seeing these films. You wish you could reach so many more people but festivals like this are a step towards the right direction.”

Good Grief is an unmissable event in this year’s programme. By taking part in a discussion led by Theresa, you might suddenly realise how oddly natural and comforting it feels to talk about death with a stranger. So much so, you might want to repeat the experience, and eventually even find the courage to comfort a grieving friend.

by Ludovica Credendino

 

Good Grief takes place on Saturday 29 October from 7pm–8.30pm at Edinburgh Printmakers. Entry is free and tickets can be booked through our Eventbrite listing. Click here for more information and to watch trailers for the film featured in the programme.

In an age where there is so much digital connectivity, but also such disconnect between people on a personal level, it can be gratifying to discover a sense of community and the knowledge that we really are all in this together. The screening of Walk a Mile in My Shoes at the Glad Café in Glasgow’s Southside provided the story and the setting for just such discoveries.

The film presents an honest (at times brutally so) portrait of Chris Young as he embarks on a journey of 10,000 miles around the periphery of the UK, in an attempt to challenge mental health stigma. He draws attention to the isolation that results, often leaving those living with mental health problems on the ‘periphery’ of society. More than that, however, the film poses questions about our ability to trust and our capacity to see ourselves reflected in one another.

In 2008, following years of mental ill health, Young received the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a condition which even by the standard of ordinary common or garden mental health stigma seems to be particularly targeted for shame and misinformation. A quick internet search for the label and it’s not long before we are faced with words such as ‘attention seeking’ and ‘manipulative’ and the characterisation of those living with the condition as incapable of relationships and even dangerous. As Chris himself jokes with a passerby he meets on his travels: ‘If you watch CSI, I’m usually the one who did it’.

WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES trailer from SMHAFF on Vimeo.

It was the news of his diagnosis and the often fearful and closed minded reactions he faced from others that propelled Young towards the desire to highlight the experiences of people living with mental health problems. His enthusiasm for simply walking and talking gave rise to the idea for the coastal trek in which he would rely on the kindness of strangers to provide him with food, shelter and companionship to sustain him.

Surprisingly, or perhaps it shouldn't be, those he encountered stepped up, by welcoming him into their homes and lives time and time again. Sharing food and warmth and at times their own stories and struggles. Young’s charisma, honesty and capacity to trust that there is good in others as long as we choose to give it space to shine through are perhaps what helps to attract those he meets and to make him a compelling presence both on screen and off.

The film, however, does not pull back from showing the difficulties and pain that Chris faces; we see with vivid clarity the reality of living with a condition which at times renders him incapable of putting one foot in front of the other, or communicating with the people and world around him. With a huge degree of honesty, he says, it was his desire to give a ‘3D view of BPD’ and the film achieves just that.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes is a film about a man living with the rigours of a challenging condition, a man with immense warmth and generosity of spirit, a rounded individual who is far more than just a label. It is a film which asks us to take a chance and trust in the inherent need for connection and potential for compassion that exists in all of us. When the task of breaking down the barriers between us – which allow stigma and exclusion to exist – seems so great, perhaps it would serve us well to remember that all we need to do is to start somewhere, connect with one another and talk. Maybe it really is possible to take on mental health stigma, one conversation at a time.

by Susan McKinstery

 

Also taking place at the Glad Café, Out of Harm sees young people use storytelling, film and photography to explore self-harm and the reasons for it, and takes place from 7-8pm on Wed 26 Oct. Click here for more information. For full film listings in Glasgow and Edinburgh, see our film flyer.

Shoulder the Lion is technically a documentary but it is much more expressive and abstract than that definition would normally suggest. Exploring the experiences of artists who are dealing with or have previously dealt with disability, it merges three character studies, with each artist talking in detail about their work and how it has been affected by their physical conditions.

It is the first full length film by co-directors Erinnisse and Patryk Rebisz, and Erinnisse explains their choice of subject by stating that she has ‘a particular attraction to the story of overcoming adversity through art’. However, one of the strengths of the film is that it doesn’t present a message that simple or reductive. By delving into the real experiences of these three artists, it gives varying perspectives on the impact of disability on art, exploring the interaction between health and creativity, showing the limits that health can impose on creativity, but also representing the possibilities it can open up for working in different ways.

For ex-boxer Katie Dallam, the real life inspiration for the film Million Dollar Baby, recovering from severe brain damage led her to return to an artistic career she had previously abandoned – she now works as a painter and sculptor. Reflecting on her injury, she says: ‘I found out who I am through this.’

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However, musician Graham Sharpe has a more conflicted relationship with his art. Suffering from progressive tinnitus, Sharpe has to acknowledge the fact that music, his creative outlet of choice, can exacerbate his condition. ‘The thing I love the most is the thing that causes me the most pain,’ he states, describing the frustrations that come with having to give up certain ambitions and his attempts to find a balance between playing music and preventing his health from getting worse. His articulation of his attitude towards his tinnitus is starkly relatable for anyone who has developed a condition that limits what they had hoped to achieve.

Sharpe talks specifically about the psychological impact of having a progressive condition, something that is also mentioned by photographer Alice Wingwall. Describing the gradual development of her blindness, Wingwall explains her difficulty in accepting that she was eventually going to lose her sight. The film is both sensitive and honest as it explores the balance between accepting a condition and rebelling against it, the gradual realisation that things are not going to revert to how they were, and the process of coming to terms with that.

However, the film doesn’t just focus on the conditions of the artists, it also considers their work. The film features music performed by Sharpe, paintings and sculptures created by Dallam, and photographs by Wingwall, who also talks in detail about her artistic process. The film follows her as she takes photos and discusses theoretical aspects of photography: people’s ability to relate to images, the impact of technology on photography, and the relation of photography to memory. These sections are fascinating and woven in well with the rest of the film.

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Shoulder the Lion has a rather loose structure, moving from artist to artist, from recollections to abstract re-enactments of events. At one point, Dallam lies on the floor, evoking her physical injury in the boxing ring. Visually, it’s beautiful; the filmmakers frequently use light, colour and symbolic images to suggest certain moods, creating a poetic, expressive feel. At one point, sound is used to mimic the effect of tinnitus, trying to make the viewer share Sharpe’s own experience for a moment – which he describes vividly as ‘an electrical insect that’s trying to hoover my brain with a chisel’.

The title of the film – the idea of ‘shouldering the lion’ – conveys the image of carrying an immense weight, of struggling and resilience. This seems extremely appropriate, as the film portrays three people who have experienced the impact of a life-changing condition, struggled with it and found different ways of coping with it. The film is affecting – and at times affirming – but it does not pretend that everything has been resolved. For someone like Sharpe, who has a progressive condition, the balance between physical health and involvement with music may need to keep on being recalculated.

All too often, the interaction between physical and mental health is overlooked and the impact of physical illness or disability on mental health is understated. It is therefore a relief and a joy to see a film that portrays these aspects so sensitively and creatively. Engaging in a complex way with the issues of disability and art, Shoulder the Lion is a thoughtful and thought-provoking film.

by Emma Lawson

 

Shoulder the Lion is screening at Filmhouse in Edinburgh on Monday 24 October at 6pm. Click here to book tickets.

Ahead of the European Premiere of Touched with Fire at the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival, director Paul Dalio spoke with Theresa Moerman Ib about an intensely personal feature project.

In one of the first scenes of Touched with Fire, Carla, a poet with bipolar disorder played convincingly by Katie Holmes, reads from her latest collection to an awkwardly unenthused bookstore audience. One can't help but wonder if Paul Dalio incorporated his own personal experience of a similar situation into his debut feature. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder himself, and astonishingly open about his struggles with mental illness, I was half expecting the experience of making such a personal film to have been traumatic, but Dalio surprises me right off the bat with his positivity and the mostly encouraging responses he has had both to the film and his honesty.

"I’ve had screenings of the film all over the US with different mental health organisations, mental health festivals and medical schools. Across the board, it’s been astounding how universally resonant the film was with people who have bipolar.  All of them say: 'Oh my God, that’s exactly what it’s like'. To me, the beautiful thing is also that the parents of these people can empathise with the parents of the characters. A lot of people expressed to me that they were able to have dialogues with their children that they were never able to have before."

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HOW TO FEEL THROUGH SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN

The idea that the arts can encourage conversations about mental health within families and communities, that they can help people open up about their experiences and begin to break down stigma, are causes at the forefront of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, and Dalio is excited that the European premiere of Touched with Fire will take place on Monday at Glasgow Film Theatre followed by a second screening later in the week at Filmhouse in Edinburgh. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A in which Paul Dalio will be present via Skype directly from New York alongside local representatives from Bipolar Scotland.

"I’m so honoured to have my film play in this festival. To be screening the film in Europe is a big step in raising awareness about something that’s very misunderstood," he says. "Cinema has a power like no other to transport an audience member into the senses of the character in a very visceral way. There is such opportunity for film to change stigma because of its ability to have you feel through someone else’s skin."

Not all films about mental health get it right in Dalio's opinion, but it's not for lack of trying. His own driving force was the desire to do something different, to show life through a bipolar lens, so to speak. "Every film I’ve seen so far about bipolar naturally looks at the person from the outside, which is a little bit alienating, because the person making the film has no idea what it’s like to see through their eyes. So the stigma remains, because whatever they’re doing looks crazy from the outside.

"There are great examples of films that are moving to me, that capture things very powerfully from another person’s point of view. For example, Infinitely Polar Bear had a lot of charm. There are films that allow you to sympathize with the bipolar person but still don't show it in an authentic way. I was really happy about Silver Linings Playbook. While it didn’t capture what it’s really like, and you don’t really understand the person and what they’re feeling and going through completely, it did break down a lot of the stigma, because the filmmaker had such compassion for the characters. I think that was a great case because it was the filmmaker’s son that had bipolar, and that’s what inspired him. I could easily see the filmmaker had great tenderness and love for the subject, and Robert De Niro’s character almost reacted the way my father would look at me, with love but not quite understanding.

"Even with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, while it was alienating to look at a lot of these crazy people, it still made you think: who’s crazy and who’s not? Is society crazy? Or are these people really crazy? But even in the examples of films such as these that do it well, I’ve heard negative things in the bipolar community, because they miss certain stuff. I think that's because it really all comes down to the fact that having bipolar and gives you the opportunity to tell it from that perspective."

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“FOR THE FIRST TIMe You UNDERSTAND ME”

One of the double payoffs of making the film for Paul Dalio has been that it worked both as a form of self-administered therapy, while allowing him to reach out to others at the same time. A woman from the International Bipolar Foundation said: 'I’m having the first connection I’ve had with my daughter in years'. And her daughter said: 'Mom, I think for the first time you understand me'. The mother finally gets it after seeing things through her daughter’s eyes, and the daughter can see herself through her mother’s eyes. So that was very important to me. The other thing was the doctors. I didn’t expect such a positive reception from the medical community. I was wondering whether they would think I was romanticising or that it was too controversial, but it was heartwarming, encouraging and optimistic to me that they actually took to this message and agreed that it should be approached differently in terms of how to describe bipolar as an illness."

With such a profound effect in the real world, I couldn't help asking if Dalio ever considered making a documentary about himself instead of drama with fictionalised characters. While he values and appreciates the documentary genre, he feels fiction has greater power to transport the viewer into the heart of a protagonist by speaking to their emotions rather than their intellect. "Also, I started as a screenwriter, which was my background even before my bipolar surfaced. So that was naturally the way for me to go. Documentary has its place and it’s important to have both; it’s just that narrative filmmaking is my passion."

Dalio is convinced that art and creativity has therapeutic value, and as someone who wrote, directed, edited and scored his own film, he has lived experience in many art forms as well. But rather than feeling overwhelmed by wearing so many different hats on one production, he loved how it allowed him to channel his bipolar experience through the medium of film. "It was very rewarding. I personally enjoy doing all that stuff myself just in general. I’ve always enjoyed different art forms. The exciting thing to me about film is that it’s so multidirectional, and you can enjoy doing these art forms in a synchronised way with a singular purpose, which is just fun and exciting to do. In this case, it wasn’t only exciting but it was meaningful, because I wanted to capture what it’s like through a bipolar’s senses. So to be able to control the editing and the music from the point of view of someone who’s been through it is extremely important."

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WORKING WITH THE STARS

Although the key creative roles were played by Paul Dalio and his wife, who was both his cinematographer and one of the producers, the film wouldn't be what it is without the gripping performances of Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby. He credits his casting director Avy Kaufmann, known for her work on major productions such as The Sixth SenseThe Bourne Ultimatum and Life of Pi, with the daunting task of finding the perfect match for his lead roles, bipolar poets Carla and Marco who meet in a psychiatric hospital and fall in love only to end up questioning the consequences of their love for each other.

"They were both really committed and intense about how important it was to get the best performance. Because of that, it was fun working with them. A lot of the work was in the preparation before shooting the film. First they needed to understand their characters as separate from being bipolar, so they could just empathise with them on a human level, and get to know who these people were and what their paths were, what formed them.

“Once they had that, I needed to give them a full understanding of what it’s like to go manic, and what the depressive experience is like. I would immerse them in poetry by bipolar poets, and paintings by bipolar painters. I'd show them things that really expressed each of those states. Once they were able to understand who their characters were and could empathise with them, they could visualise and make the emotional leap to understanding how each of their characters would react to having bipolar suddenly strike their life.

“Most of the dialogue was scripted, but in cases where they were manic, for example in the hospital, I would encourage them to improvise. The interesting thing was that when I let them improvise, as long as they stuck to the script in between, the written lines in their acting would seem more spontaneous and lifelike, even if the unscripted scenes were cut out. Katie and Luke have extraordinary emotional range. Bipolar is the outer range of human emotion, so they made the imaginary leap to the brink of their emotions in a very real way."

Being able to work with high profile, experienced actors and old timers in the business, such as Avy Kaufmann, he attributes largely to his former mentor at NYU film school, Spike Lee, who also is executive producer on the film. "He’s a very independent spirit who does things his own way. He approaches his teaching that way too and encourages you to have your own voice. Interestingly, he does most of his teaching through questions. He asks probing questions that point to blind spots, things you should be looking at that you’re not looking at. He would give me feedback on the script and every stage of the process. He’s very hard, he has very high standards, but he was very supportive creatively, in putting the film together and by facilitating introductions to the right people. He was supportive while trying to allow my voice to lift off on its own."

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THE MYTH OF THE MAD GENIUS

The title Touched with Fire refers to a book on bipolar disorder and creativity written by Kay Redfield Jamison, an acclaimed psychologist with lived experience of bipolar herself. The book was a huge inspiration to Dalio and changed the way he thought about bipolar, seeing it as a gift rather than an illness, but he half regrets borrowing the title for his film. "The film was originally called Mania Days, but there was concern that the word 'mania' would resonate with people in the wrong way. So I was looking for another title that might be appropriate and Touched with Fire seemed to make sense.

While I was always moved by that title, my regret is that certain people have taken the film to be a thesis on bipolar disorder and creativity, suggesting that I made the film to prove the book’s thesis. That’s not the purpose of the film at all. The film is a love story about two people and how they relate to the book to find some meaning in what they have to live with. No one is saying that these two poets are geniuses or that they're exemplary evidence that bipolar and genius are connected."

But the myth dies hard. Especially with the protagonists in Touched with Fire being poets, it's hard to resist comparisons with the confessional crowd of the 1950s and 1960s that included Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell, whose mental anguish fuelled much of their writing. Dalio doesn't disagree. "Poetry is an art form that at its best brings a lot of beauty to horrific situations, finds beauty within them, and I think that’s why, of all the art forms, bipolar people are drawn to poetry. It’s not just a means of expression, it’s a means of healing, a means of getting through it, and a way to bring some kind of meaning to this thing. That was my own experience with it," says Dalio who began honing his screenwriting skills before was diagnosed at the age of 24.

"I never did poetry or rap before I was bipolar, but the interesting thing is that, when you’re manic, you start speaking in rhymes constantly. Your mind makes these rapid sprawling connections between things and taps into these natural rhythms. When I came out of the hospital, it became an outlet. Rap is a darker, more aggressive form of poetry when you’re in the angst or torment of feeling cut off from society, when you're feeling alienated or pushed off into the shadows, feeling frustration and an anger towards God or fate for what has happened to you. You compete with people who are wearing pain and darkness as a badge and basking in the glory of it. The more crazy the rhymes you come up with, the more celebrated it is. Screenwriting is a form of artistic expression where you’re conveying sane stories to a sane audience, and suddenly that's no longer fulfilling your need for expression."

This element of Dalio's personal history comes to light in the film through Marco, who prefers to go by his poet's name Luna, a thinly veiled self-portrait of the director. "Rapping was a way of redeeming my own insanity, which is why I took the alias Luna, which is short for lunacy or lunatic. People really embraced me and held me up in that world. Then when I was coming out of the bipolar and forming connections to the world through my wife and other people, I naturally went into poetry as a way of self-healing."

While some artists may prefer not to make connections between their practice and their mental health struggles, Dalio has no qualms about admitting that the spoken word was a significant part of his healing process and his career development. A journey which came to a satisfying conclusion when he finished the film: "The poetry and the rap helped me to cope when I was lost in it. The making of the film was a deeper form of therapy in that it was the final point of closure with this struggle, this condition. I was finally able to overcome it and make sense of it in a way that I could leave the pain behind, and, more importantly, could help bring others, who were still going through the pain, out of it. That was the most profound form of healing I’ve ever experienced because it transcended myself."

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BITTERSWEET BIPOLAR

Although he appears to have put his darkest days behind him, Dalio admits he will always carry the fire, especially in his work. He is currently developing a new script, and, although he is too superstitious to talk about it, he admits it is a story as bittersweet as Touched with Fire, albeit with a different subject matter. "I feel that it has been my way to leave all of this behind. Being bipolar will always inform who I am. I’ll always appreciate the role it plays in my life, and there will always be some flavour of that in my creative output, but this feels like something totally different.

“But I think I’ve developed a taste for the tragic ever since bipolar, and it’s not just that I want to look at tough stuff. When there’s positive and negative stuff happening at the same time it resonates as being real life. I used to write comedy, but, in a really positive way, going through bipolar you’re forced into the brightest and the darkest of moments. You’re forced to go through life situations where you have to give up a lot. Things that are good come with a great sacrifice. You really experience the good and bad, and you finally get life and the beauty of it in a way that you wouldn’t if you just lingered on the surface of things. Bittersweetness is essential to a bipolar film. The script I’m doing now has the same thing, so I think it’s something that has marked me for life."

Moving on to other themes in his work doesn't mean that Paul Dalio has given up on talking about mental health. He hopes his openness will encourage others in the entertainment industry to come out, because the media has a huge effect on social environments and how mental illness is viewed. "I think if any of us were afraid to be the first to dip our toe in the water, all of this would remain in the dark, and no one would want to work with someone bipolar in Hollywood, no one would want to come out about it, and everyone would have the worst assumptions about it, more movies would be made that convey it in a really alienating way, and the stigma would go on and on."

TURNING POINT

When asked if he is worried that his candour will have a negative impact on his career, he voices his concern that Hollywood is still full of stigma and that there is a real risk he may not get certain jobs because people are worried he'll "go off the rails". The benefits of speaking out in public about bipolar, however, far outweigh the potential downside. Dalio feels a strong responsibility, even an obligation, to combat stigma and try to instigate change, especially when people come up to him on the street and tell him how much his work means to them.

"To not be open about it, when I made a film about it, when I’m a living example of it, when I know I could potentially change people’s perceptions about it? I couldn’t do that. I feel like it would be a crime not to help change people’s perceptions. Number one: I’m not ashamed of it; I am genuinely proud of it. Number two: I’ve never been capable of being ashamed of my own DNA and being quiet about it. But the most important thing is that I knew how essential it was to be open about it. We’re at a turning point," he asserts and concludes: "It's been the biggest reward to my life to be open about it. I feel like there was finally something to come out of my life that had a real genuine and important purpose. It feels so fulfilling at the end of a journey that had such torment to find only satisfaction and strong closure with some really positive results."

by Theresa Moerman Ib

 

Don't miss the European Premiere of Touched with Fire including a Skype Q&A with director Paul Dalio at Glasgow Film Theatre on Monday 24th October at 8pm.

The film screens again at Filmhouse in Edinburgh on Wednesday 26th October at 6pm, also with a Skype director Q&A.

 Bipolar Scotland will participate in both post-screening discussions.