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
A showcase of comedy, art, drama, dance and music performed local people, to celebrate positive mental health and wellbeing in Lanarkshire, hosted by comedian Des Clark. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance. 'Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 09'.
Bumper bill of Scottish acts all performing for the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival: Rod Jones (Idlewild), Emma Pollock, James Graham (Twilight Sad), Scott Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit), Jill O'Sullivan, Karine Polwart, Jenny Reeve, Alasdair Roberts and James Yorkston. 'Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts…
David Benson, who gave us 'Think No Evil of Us - My Life With Kenneth William', delves into the psyche of Frankie Howerd. Followed by a post-show discussion. 'Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival 09'.
This night of poetry, songs and music of struggle and healing is run by The Scottish Mental Health Association Arts and Film Festival in collaboration with Dead Good Poets and Aberdeen City Council. Musicians Grace Banks and Louise Counsell and writers Douglas Gray, Keith Murray, Sheena Blackhall and Gerard Rochford will…
Women artists from diverse backgrounds use influences from Scotland, China, Pakistan, India and beyond to express themselves through creative arts and photography, illustrating themes of well-being, resilience and recovery. 'Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival 09'.
This exhibition examines the relationship between our internal and external worlds, and how this is expressed symbolically in our paintings, creative writing and photography. 'Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival'.
Glasgow South West Peer Support Developmental Group presents an exhibition of work based on the works of Robert Burns, whom experts now believe may have experienced bipolar. 'Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival'.
An exhibition of photography and creative writing from the Maryhill Integration Network, whose work promotes integration of host communities and newcomers. 'Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival'.
A magical, animated story, exploring the concerns, interpreted personal histories and imagination of people who have attended Springpark's creative art group, will be displayed on a touch screen in the centre's reception area. 'Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival'.