Thursday, October 24, 2013

Behind the Screen: Straightlaced.

Teens confront gender stereotypes in Straightlaced: How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up, which will be shown during the CSWE 2013 Film Festival in Dallas, TX, on November 1. See below for a peek at the making of the film (featuring Academy Award-winning director Debra Chasnoff and producer Sue Chen). View or download the film festival schedule here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Preview of CSWE 2013 Film Festival.

See a preview of the films that will be featured in the CSWE 2013 Film Festival in Dallas on November 1-3, 2013. Anna Radev, program director of the nonprofit organization Children of Domestic Violence, will answer questions after the two screenings of the film The Children Next Door during the festival.View or download the film festival schedule here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Behind the Screen:
Hidden Pictures—The Underexposed World of Mental Health

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring the filmmakers from the November 1-3, 2013, CSWE 2013 Film Festival in Dallas, sharing the stories behind the making of their films. Coinciding with today's World Mental Health Day, filmmaker and physician Delaney Ruston explains below the background of her film Hidden Pictures: The Underexposed World of Mental Health, which seeks to show the treatment of mental illness across national boundaries.

Filmmaker-physician
Delaney Ruston
As a daughter of a man with schizophrenia and as a doctor working with the underserved, I experienced firsthand the painful consequences arising from the silence, frustration, and stigma surrounding mental illness in the United States. I documented my father’s story in the PBS film Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia.  In doing so, I personally experienced the power that film can have to spark conversations that can catalyze change.

Then one day I read something that shocked me. The World Health Organization reports that approximately 450 million people suffer from mental illness such as autism, depression, dementia, and many others. Why, I wondered, was this global situation never discussed? Why were there few books and not one documentary on this topic? Could global stories caught on film lead to improved understanding and less stigma locally and globally? The overwhelming number given by the WHO led me to decide it was worth a try. I made my way to India, South Africa, China, and France to seek out stories. Little did I know the obstacles I would face.

At several points I nearly abandoned this project because the stigma of mental illness has driven these stories underground. Imagine, for example, the challenge of getting an Indian family to participate when they did not even reveal the truth about their daughter’s schizophrenia within their own extended family. I was often filming alone, which posed challenges. In the end, however, this probably led people to open up more than had a crew been present.

Ultimately, those who did share their lives in Hidden Pictures opened my eyes in new ways. It was heartbreaking to hear about the immensity of the problem and the paucity of mental health care as well as the widespread disregard for human rights.

At the same time, witnessing the resilient spirits of these individuals and their families kept my hope alive.  Filming families and individuals who have become public advocates was the best part of my journey. Viewers will see a schoolteacher fostering incredible empathy in her students, and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D–RI) and actress Glenn Close speaking frankly about their family struggles and their determination to fight stigma. In the end Hidden Pictures shows the universality of our shared experience and the power of our collective efforts to reduce suffering worldwide.

I firmly believe that documentary film is not “the answer” but rather “the beginning.” It is a tool to begin dialogue that is motivated from the thing most powerful of all—our emotions. It is only through emotions that we ever become motivated to learn more, change our attitudes, and take action.

It is my hope that the combined force of all the stories in this film will inspire viewers to share with others whatever they take away from Hidden Pictures. It is through this sharing that the cycle of silence will be stopped and that all of the heartbreaking hidden pictures of mental illness will be transformed into public portraits of awareness, acceptance and recovery.

Update, 1/7/2015: Free CSWE film study guide for Hidden Pictures now available.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Behind Closed Doors: Voices From the Inside receives CSWE Virtual Ovation Award.

Behind Closed Doors: Voices From the Inside, the domestic sex-trafficking documentary produced by a team from University of Texas at San Antonio, has received the CSWE Virtual Ovation Award. The documentary, produced as part of an Advanced Policy class, was one of nine films selected for CSWE's first virtual film festival, which featured student-produced films related to social work.

Behind Closed Doors will be shown at CSWE's Annual Program Meeting in Dallas on Saturday, November 2 at 5 p.m. in the Hilton Anatole's Metropolitan Ballroom. Following the film, film team member Robert Ambrosino will answer questions.

Behind the Screen: GrandParenting

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring the filmmakers from the upcoming CSWE 2013 Film Festival in Dallas, sharing the stories behind the making of their films. As today is the UN's International Day of Older Persons, Canadian filmmaker Karen Shopsowitz explains below the background of her film GrandParenting, which seeks to show the many issues faced by grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

It started a few summers ago when I was working on another documentary, One Summer at Camp Winston, about a camp for kids with neurological disorders located a couple of hours north of Toronto. While I was there, Denise, the camp director, introduced me to Peter and Elaine, whose 12-year-old grandson, Larry, was a frequent visitor to the camp. Denise explained that Peter and Elaine had been raising Larry since he was a baby. Peter, Elaine, and Denise began to tell me a bit more about the idea of grandparents raising grandchildren, with the children’s parents often completely or mostly out of the picture. Reasons for this situation ranged from physical and mental disorders to drug or alcohol dependencies that made it difficult or impossible for the birth parents to care for their children.

Once I had returned home, I started to do some research, and the numbers that came up were staggering: some 20,000 in Ontario and tens of thousands more across Canada who were being cared for by their grandparents. The figures were even higher in the United States.

Camp Winston had scheduled a support weekend for grandparents that May, so I headed up to the camp with my camera. I sat in on a few of the workshops, spending some time with a group of grandchildren who shared stories of early life with their birth parents and their subsequent life with their grandparents. I also heard deeply moving stories from grandmothers and grandfathers—the pride they had as well as the difficulties they now encountered. One grandmother, Betty, told me how she had been raising her granddaughter, Asheleigh, for the past 16 years—in effect, nearly since Asheleigh was born.

As word spread at the camp that I was eager to talk to grandparents, I soon had more than a dozen people crammed into the living room of one of the camp cabins. The stories were emotional, inspiring, difficult, and heart-wrenching. These grandparents talked of financial and physical issues; the strains and pressures of raising infants, toddlers, and teenagers. At least one woman cried as she confessed that she often wondered if her granddaughter wouldn’t have been better off if she had been adopted; however, deep down, she felt she’d done the right thing. Another woman explained that she’d adopted her grandchild with her husband; he passed away a few years later, leaving her, now in her 70s, to raise this young grandchild as a single grandmother. In spite of the tears, there was also a lot of laughter, and the typical boasting that comes when a group of parents (or, in this case, grandparents) gather together to talk about their children.

I left the weekend knowing that this was a film I really wanted to make—that it was important to show what happens when grandparents step in to care for their grandchildren—in a way that goes against the stereotypical view of doting elders spoiling their young charges. Grandparents and grandchildren talked about the hardships and the things they both missed by living this new reality, but they also talked about what they had gained.