The Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival
Still breaking barriers and bigger than ever
It started in 2007, with 40 fairly low-fi events, mostly in and around Glasgow. Two years on, and the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival is collaborating with major Scottish artists, musicians and writers, co-running events with the National Theatre of Scotland and the BBC, and over 200 events up and down the country. It’s fair to say director Lee Knifton feels a little like he’s spawned a (rather wonderful) monster.
‘Yes, it’s doubled in size every year!’ he says. ‘And so many people are involved! We’ve got people like the BBC and the National Theatre of Scotland on the one hand, and on the other we’ve got very small community groups doing events that aren’t even in English on another. But everyone, across the board, is working to develop a series of events to bring issues of mental health to life.’
This year, the festival takes in everything from gigs to comedy, theatre and experimental dance to workshops and art exhibitions. Some of these are headed by big starry names, some are the work of community groups; all of them are addressing stigma surrounding mental health in some way. Knifton is particularly proud of the film strand this year: from the 50 Cents For Your Soul (it’s a quote from Marilyn Monroe) programme at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse looking at films dealing with female mental health, to the public-nominated strands of feelgood movies (Amelie and ET feature; less obviously so does Drugstore Cowboy) across Glasgow.
‘The arts allow us to engage with the public more widely and on an emotional level,’ he explains. ‘If you try and put something across on a public poster, or in a workshop, you have to present a case. It’s not always about intellectual engagement – a lot of people are very well informed about mental health issues – it’s about an emotional engagement that would break down barriers.’
Clearly, many of Scotland’s leading musicians, writers and comedians agree. Artists like Rod Jones, from the band Idlewild, writers Janice Galloway, Denise Mina and Louise Welsh, comedian Phil Kay and the indie-folk musicians Karine Polwart and Emma Pollock have all got involved with organising aspects of the festival themselves. Jones has curated of the festival’s closing gig on the 21st of October, bringing well known local acts like Attic Lights, Frightened Rabbit and Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake onstage with him at the Edinburgh Picturehouse.
Kay is in charge of a night of comedy celebrating the strangenesses and wonders of the mind (Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, Thu 15 Oct); Mina and Welsh are involved in The Trick Is To Keep Writing, a weekend programme at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library that probes the links between mental health and creativity further.
Basically, there’s a lot going on. A big, glorious, messy celebration, as Knifton is all too aware.
‘It’s not neat! Oh no. If we had a neat festival with say, two key messages, I’d be worried that we weren’t engaging with people. The world’s not neat, and neither’s mental health.’
Thu 1–22 October, various times, prices and venues. mhfestival.com for full listings