In the lead up to Bell Let’s Talk Day, Hot Docs is presenting a series of free “doc-and-conversation” screenings about mental health. Hot Docs is teaming up with Bell Let’s Talk and Workman Arts with the goal of “starting a conversation to break the stigma around mental illness and help create positive change.”
To get the conversation started, Hot Docs will screen three free documentaries along with post-screening Q&As with special guests and experts. And all I can say is, I’m impressed with the choice of films and their subjects: Kusama: Infinity, Mystify: Michael Hutchence, and Cracked Up.
The theme that ties these docs together is the success of their subjects. Yayoi Kusama is one of the most successful living artists, and her Infinity Mirror exhibits continue to sell out at art galleries around the world. Michael Hutchence was a successful singer (the INXS frontman) who lived the rock and roll dream. And Darrell Hammond nabbed every improver’s dream job by landing a role on the legendary comedy TV series, Saturday Night Live. From the outside looking in, these three famous people seem like they have it all. So, it’s essential that we acknowledge their struggles with mental illness.
Watching docs about celebrities battling mental illness helps viewers deal with their own mental health issues. These titles serve as perfect conversation starters for those who don’t know how to broach the subject with their friends and family. But most importantly, these movies, through the struggles of their subjects, let viewers know that they aren’t alone.
I find Yayoi Kusama’s story most relatable and inspiring. For much of her life, she has suffered from depersonalization disorder, a condition that alters one’s sense of reality, often leaving them functional, but in a detached fugue. There is no cure for this affliction, but even after experiencing it for decades. she never let it get the best of her.
Kusama spent the last 30 years voluntarily checked into a psychiatric hospital, and working on her world-famous art serves as a form of therapy. And now, even at 90 years old, Kusama remains a prolific artist. She uses her signature style of art to make sense of life, and confront her disorder, one polka dot at a time.
The free tickets (maximum of two per person) are available at the Hot Docs box office (506 Bloor St. W.) or online here.
D: Heather Lenz | 80 min | 2018 | USA
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15 6:30 PM
Emerging as a rival to Andy Warhol in the 1960s, Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese-born “Infinity Mirrors” visionary, overcame mental health struggles to become the biggest-selling female artist in the world. Battles with sexism, racism and mental health issues led her to voluntarily spend over three decades living in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital. Kusama: Infinity beautifully delves into her prolific career, the influence of her dazzling polka-dotted visions – which she describes as “art medicine” – and the power of embracing weirdness.
MYSTIFY: MICHAEL HUTCHENCE
D: Richard Lowenstein | Australia | 2019 | 104 min | 14A
TUESDAY, JANUARY 21 6:30 PM
Wildly popular singer-songwriter Michael Hutchence was a sensation as the enigmatic frontman of the Australian band INXS. Peeling away the myths surrounding the singer’s untimely suicide, this Hot Docs ’19 selection reveals how a life-altering brain injury led Hutchence on a tragic downward spiral into depression. Featuring home movies and interviews with loved ones, including ex-girlfriends Kylie Minogue and Helena Christensen, Mystify: Michael Hutchence is a deeply poignant tribute to one of music’s most misunderstood showmen.
D: Michelle Esrick | USA | 2018 | 95 min | Not Rated
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 29 6:30 PM
Master impressionist, comedian and Saturday Night Live veteran Darrell Hammond shares how his childhood trauma severely impacted his mental health. While shining brilliantly in the spotlight, Hammond struggled with drugs, alcohol and debilitating flashbacks – and was misdiagnosed by doctors for decades. Not until a suicide attempt was he properly treated, unleashing the memories his brain had locked away for over 50 years. Impeccably balancing humour and tragedy, Cracked Up is a touching story of hope and resilience.
*In recognition of the potentially triggering content of the participating films, supportive listeners will be present at each screening.
Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Owned and operated by Hot Docs, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing and celebrating the art of documentary, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is the world’s largest documentary cinema. A historic, century-old landmark located in Toronto’s vibrant Annex neighbourhood, the Cinema is a year-round home for non-fiction film and storytelling, presenting first-run international and Canadian documentaries, curated film and speakers series, signature events including Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Hot Docs Podcast Festival and Curious Minds Weekend, as well as hosting for some of the city’s premier festivals and events.
Workman Arts is a multidisciplinary arts organization that promotes a greater understanding of mental health and addiction issues through creation and presentation. We support artists living with mental health and addiction issues through peer-to-peer arts education, public presentations and partnerships with the broader arts community.
Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day
Launched in 2011, the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day is the most high profile event in the national Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative. By getting engaged in the mental health conversation across a wide range of communication platforms on Bell Let’s Talk Day, you directly drive Bell’s donations to Canadian mental health programs all year round.
To learn more, please visit Bell.ca/LetsTalk.