rendezvous With Madness 2023

Rendezvous with Madness 2023: What to See at the Festival

The Rendezvous with Madness (RWM) Festival returns for its 31st anniversary, once again using the arts to highlight and bring awareness to mental health and addiction, and the ways it affects everyone. The festival is an incredibly important resource for embracing and exploring the ways we can look at, understand and have discussions about mental health, and its myriad facets that often go unnoticed.

Once again, RWM is a hybrid of in-person and virtual held spaces, running from October 27 until November 5. The Festival is presented by Workman Arts, and is the largest and first mental health festival in the world, and uses media and a variety of art to reveal reality and dispel illusions and mythologies that surround mental illnesses and addictions, while exploring the amazing capacity we all have for endurance in the face of such challenges. This year’s theme, “#MINDTHEGAPS”, encourages attendees to explore the ways all people, but especially those with lived experience of mental health and addiction, fall through systemic cracks in important supporting infrastructures, and to ask what is missing and how these cracks can be mended.

Program Highlights

Before RWM’s Opening Night, there is the “wherever you are is where i want to be” exhibition, running from October 5 to 31 and curated by Sarah-Tai Black (they/them), which is a multi-media, multi-artist exhibit about the ways in which queer-trans-crip bodies access and express intimacy.

The festival itself opens on October 27 with back home, a film by Nisha Platzer (she/her). This moving documentary follows the director as she attempts to get to know her older brother twenty years after he took his own life. In looking to create a connection between both the filmmaker and her brother’s past but also with the people that knew him, back home creates a complex and deeply moving experience about love and loss.


Confronting past trauma is a common theme this year, including Sergio Guataquira Sarmiento’s documentary Adieu Sauvage, which premiered in the 45th Cinéma du Réel Festival and screens at RWM on October 28. Sarmiento, himself a descendant of an indigenous Colombian community, went to meet the Cácuas people of South America after learning of a devastating epidemic of young people hanging themselves. He reconnects with his own culture and learns the ways this community feels, loves and grieves, despite not being able to say “I love you” in their language. Likewise What’s Eating My Mind by Noella Luka, screening on November 2, is an autobiographical look at the grief created by mental illness diagnoses. The documentary explores the ways tradition in Kenya prejudices and stifles discussions on mental illness, and how finding your community is the key to coping with unsupported and misunderstood neurodivergency.

For those interested in exploring themes of family and grief there is the October 29 screening of Dear Mother, I Meant To Write About Death (我们在黑夜的海上). Directed by Siyi Chen, the powerful doc explores the discussions and difficult conversations the filmmaker has with her mother about death and mortality, in the face of being her caretaker through a devastating cancer diagnosis. Another look at family connections comes with the November 3 screening of Blue Sky White Clouds by Astrid Menzel, a film which documents the filmmaker’s journey with grandmother—recently diagnosed with progressive dementia—on a 10-day canoe trip, giving her some control as her illness progresses.

If fiction is more your thing, make sure to check out Dornaz Hajiha’s Like a Fish on the Moon on November 5. The Iranian film follows a seemingly ‘normal’ young boy who stops speaking, and the ways his parents try to understand, help and cope with this unexpected event.

There are many more events and films to discover, so make sure to check out the Rendezvous With Madness schedule and ticket information for more information on the festival. To learn how you can support and join the conversation about mental health, visit the festival’s official website.


Editor’s Note: That Shelf’s Managing Editor Emma Badame and Associate Editor Victor Stiff served on this year’s RWM film programming committee.