Rendezvous With Madness 2013: Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse Review

Alien Boy

Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse

An incendiary look into a case of police brutality, Brian Lindstrom’s look at one schizophrenic man’s undignified and completely preventable death might be the heaviest film in this year’s festival line-up, but it also might be the most important.

On the afternoon of September 18th, 2006 in Portland, Oregon, former local punk scene stalwart James Chasse was stopped by the police under suspicion of urinating in public and generally acting spooked and paranoid. Roughly an hour later, he died from numerous broken ribs as the result of blunt force trauma and tazering. It was an extremely well documented moment of brutality and incompetence seen by dozens of witnesses who would all say Chasse was more frightened than combative. Even hospital security camera footage shows the main officers involved (one of whom had the second highest rate of using force in the city) bragging about the incident and dragging the still alive and still very much in pain Chasse around the emergency room like a ragdoll. And in spite of all of this, no criminal charges were ever filed and no remorse was shown by those responsible.

Lindstrom’s take on such a gross miscarriage of justice – one that would have been reprehensible regardless of Chasse’s mental state – is as gut-wrenching as it is comprehensive, leaving no stone unturned or viewpoint silenced. Talking to witnesses, former friends, his parents, and police union representatives with speeches so rehearsed it’s sickening, Alien Boy is assuredly depressing and sure to induce anger in most who watch it, but it’s also an invaluable document when talking about the need for better understanding of mental illness and special training that should be mandatory for anyone in the position of protecting people everywhere.


Considering James’ mental state, there’s not too much about the man’s actual life that can be confirmed, but there’s more than enough about the tragic aftermath surrounding his passing.


Friday, November 15th, TIFF Bell Lightbox, 6:30pm

Screening to be followed by a panel discussion with director Brian Lindstrom in attendance, and quite a stacked panel, including:


Moderator Susan Pigott: Executive in Residence at Ashoka Canada. Last June, she left CAMH where she was VP Communication and Community Engagement at CAMH for 6 years.

Pat Capponi: Author of five non-fiction books (including Bound by Duty- Walking the Beat with Canada’s Cops) and two mysteries (Penguin and HarperCollins) dealing with poverty and mental illness. She is a psychiatric survivor who works to empower her community as Lead facilitator at Voices From the Street, is co-chair of the Mental Health sub-committee of the Toronto Police Board, and is a recipient of the Order of Ontario, Queen’s Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee medals among other honours.

Lucy Costa: A systemic advocate with the Empowerment Council in CAMH. She is a Board Member with ARCH Disability Law Centre, Board Vice Chair of Sound Times Support Services and founder of the Mad Students Society. She is currently a Masters of Law student at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Matt Gurney: Columnist, Comment section editor and editorial board member at the National Post. He is host of The Exchange on News Talk Radio CJAD 800 in Montreal. He writes and speaks often on policing and mental health-care issues.


Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos: Clinician Scientist and the Psychiatrist-In-Chief at St. Michael’s. She is the Director of the Division of Adult Psychiatry and Health Systems and an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. She works on the development and evaluation of interventions to address health disparities, focusing on those most disadvantaged.

Deputy Chief Michael Federico: Toronto Police Service. He has served over 40 years, and is currently in charge of Corporate Command which includes Human Resource Management, Corporate Services, Professional Standards and Corporate Communications. He is responsible for mental health and policing issues in the community and liaises regularly with mental health service providers and consumer-survivors to discuss matters of mutual concern including police training, equipment, tactics and relationships. He also oversees the Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams that pair a police officer with a mental health nurse to respond to non-criminal incidents involving emotionally disturbed persons. Deputy Chief Federico is also the President of the Board of Directors of the Vitanova Foundation, a community based substance abuse treatment centre.