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We got to know each other at Arkipel – Jakarta International Documentary and Experimental Film Festival 2016. He’s been visiting Jakarta and Forum Lenteng since 2010 either to fulfill the appointment for the festival (being one of the jury members or being a lecturer in some public lecture at some masterclass) or being a visitor. Scott’s involvement for Rendezvous With Madness Film, the world first mental health film festival, as a festival director had attracted us to interview him. Mental health has been a crucial topic these days, there are things that need to be discussed, furthermore if we go specifics in the creative industry.
Hence, we tried to get it first hand from Scott on how, film and film festivals can be the place to raise awareness, be the support system and enable people to help each other.
This interview conducted at Goethe Institut during Arkipel 2018. It seems he fond of the festival so much since at that time he came as a “festival buddy” with relatively no obligation for the festival. Rosalia Namsai (was a doctorate candidate), Ali, and I, did the interview together. Adinda Z made the transcript with recheck by Scott himself.
Q: Basically, the question is as simple as, how did you get involved in film?
A: I feel very lucky to have a passion for film from a very young age. Because my mother would take me to the movies a lot. She would take me to movies I probably should have not seen when I was ten, eleven and twelve years old. But I’m really grateful for those experiences going with her to the movies because I think from that young age, I loved sitting in the dark, being transported to other worlds, other stories and then later I kind of came to filmmaking, film festival organizing from being an audience member first. From going to festivals, from going to screenings, from watching, … whether movies on TV, movies in cinema. As I get older I am still grateful for magical experiences in the cinema! I’ve had many transformative moments in terms of how I got turned on to alternative film, experimental film, artist film. I love many contemporary art forms, but with film there is something so special for me; its a so called “time based art form”: film is experienced through time and our lives are also experienced through time. We are human for better and worse and as such we experience our life as moving forward because time is always moving forward. Humans have a curse because we can remember things backward and we can worry about things forward. But, then, it’s hard to be in the moment and I think film has magical place that it keeps us in the moment because the seconds are always unfolding every moment.
Q: What are you working on the moment?
A: As a filmmaker? Or as an organizer? Or both?
Q: Can be both.
A: Well. I am currently working on both! I make films very slowly and most of my films are about mortality, illness, grief, death, etcetera. Because on my own personal history and for me those things always just take a lot of time. Much reflective time. My process is quite slow. Also when I make film I kind of gather, like I don’t write the script first, I don’t have storyboard, I am just shooting and gathering and sifting and watching and looking all things I shot including footage from ten years ago, like looking through collection of images to see what rises up and speaks to me. Regarding your question … I’m still working on film so I live in Canada and I was born in Detroit in the US. My mother died when I was very young but I learned more recently that my mother’s father, my grandfather was born in Montreal, Canada. I never knew that before. And my father also has Canadian grandparents so anyway I’m working on film that tracing their histories, first for them getting to Canada, and then to U.S. and thinking and reflecting to my own trajectory starting in U.S then into Canada. I am growing up in the city, Detroit is on border, the right on border of Canada. So I grow up watching a lot of Canadian TV station, radio, and being exposed to Canadian culture, visiting a lot. Just reflecting on, you know, very complicated relationship, the world largest “unprotected” border, because of course it’s very protected. It’s not a militarize border, right? It has dependent-independent complicated relationship. Politically, socially, so yeah. I just am kind of exploring family histories, thinking about how people migrated, why they moved, exploring my personal feelings about Canadian – U.S. and Native North American (Indigenous) relations. I am also working on developing a project in Indonesia, but I don’t want to talk about it now. I’ll talk about it later. It’s so very early in process.
In terms of my film festival life, I have been working on Rendezvous with Madness since 2015 after leaving the Images Festival after 14 years. Rendezvous is the world first mental health festival. Started in 1993 by two women who were psychiatric nurses at a mental hospital and they just created a huge list of 4,000 movies with mental health related themes. You know addiction, healing, wellness, recovery … so they started this unique film festival based on their passions; classic film festival history. So, we have our 26th festival this October. We show mostly feature film, a lot of shorts. Some gallery exhibitions. So, right now, It is final stage of programming the film, lot of Canadian as well as International film, every film’s different. When I am working for film festival, I love to work in international environment. And strictly non commercial. Yeah, I really learn much from discussions afterward. Because you have audiences with mental health experiences. Their friends and family, mental health worker or psychologist. You have artists, people who really care about the issues or approaches in the films. I was learning a lot about, learning through film about mental health and reminds me about how you know cinema is also important to bring people together right? What happens in time and space, we are sitting in a room and sharing same films but perhaps very different experiences/responses. Rendezvous discussions are a big part of this experience.
Q: Why are you interested in mental health issues? Have you had any changes in your perspectives?
A: I think I said before my mother died when I was very young after loneliness and like everyone I had demoted childhood. My father remarried rather quickly, and suddenly I had stepmother, stepbrothers…a blended family and now living with an alcoholic in household. Having an Uncle by marriage who served in Vietnam war, he never recovered, he really struggled in his life, after seeing friends get killed. My Grandfather committed suicide. I don’t really know why. My Uncle committed to suicide. I don’t really know why. So I have awareness from a very young age of all the shit happening in the world, personally and I think being sensitive person I was very aware of everyone’s emotions. Everyone is to some extent (I hope!) sensitive but I grew about with a deep awareness of mortality, aware that life is temporary you know, we are all here temporarily. Lot of things draw me to Rendezvous in term of themes because of my personal histories. And my love for film. And it’s combination is so great because for me, film is such a powerful art form. It really can bring people together to have dialogue through film and film has power you know like all art, but film I think because of experience, it’s experienced through time. It’s the perfect medium to have discussion about mental health and mental wellness.
The second one is hard question. So, I am on the program committee of the festival, there is five of us. Every year so we program by committee and that’s a lot of learning because you know everyone sees films differently. So, we had different perspectives, opinions, feelings. I learn about the film through my colleague in committee and off course every year different colleagues and, every year we have different films. Often very different themes, different forms, different kinds of films with different subject matters. So, I think I am lucky to have a job watching different kinds of film, think about it and talk about it. Really reflect on what would be important to bring to audiences. What feels most important to have discussions about? It’s hard but exciting to show films and host discussions about challenging current issues. Last year showed a very difficult documentary film about suicide. Right now in Canada, we have a new law coming to power offering physician assisted suicide, like right to die, like someone who wants to die that would be legal. When it comes to suicide and mental health, it is really complicated because someone is living with conditions where they may not be able to make decision for themselves for example because of their mental health. Ask their decision to end their life is very complicated so but it’s important to have this discussion because it affects all of us, we are all affected by these kinds of vital issues. That’s personally, ultimately a human right to me this particular issue. Are we going to give people right for themselves to decide? And not feeling they want to live. And I think that’s really important. And I am very lucky to work in film festival that show such films, the documentary about this issue last year and have panel discussion about it. And we constantly get people on panel that has different opinion because we don’t want to, say, just one way or one opinion. We want everyone that see the film at advance have opposing position, not for a fight, but just for deeper discussion from different perspectives.
Q: So, Rosalia likes the festival name. Because ‘madness’ [single quote mark] connotates negativity, but rendezvous connotates positivity, exciting. Is it reflecting your philosophy for festival?
A: The name is interesting. The name was taken in 1993, way before I started. It was 25 years ago, it is different now than 25 years ago. The name was chosen at that time when the stigma of mental health was different, not only in Canada, but also in the world. So as I’ve been told, at the time, the decision to use word ‘madness’ is political because it has negative connotation, especially in 1990s, at the time someone was ‘mad’ was considered negative right? Someone is mad must be locked up and be put away. Since then, word has been reclaimed, so a lot of people living in mental health issues are really proud to be ‘mad’. So, for example, in Toronto, we have Mad Pride, there is march where people celebrate their madness. However, a lot of audience, a lot of people who come through the festival, they don’t like the name because they think the madness has an old fashioned, outdated meaning. So, we have discussion every year about the name … art center names are complicated because once you had a name how you change it. You know 25 years it’s very hard. I really like it. Because what’s happened? It’s good and bad. It’s a word. Let’s talk about Madness. What’s ironic for the organization which produces the festival, we don’t use the word anywhere else except Rendezvous With Madness. So, I am aware that’s ironic. But, I think Rendezvous is nice word because Rendezvous means “coming together”, right? Rendezvous is to join together to have a shared experience. So Rendezvous is to sit in a cinema, watch films and have discussions. So, perhaps when I think about it, the name is a little bit dated in certain context, but to me it really works.
Q: From your understanding as a filmmaker, how has filmmaking helped, in regard to mental issues ?
A: Everyone’s experience is quite different, right? I can see a painting and start to cry because something in the painting connected with me. And you might see the same painting and think it’s really boring, not interesting. She might see the painting and become angry. So…what I can say about your question is that I think when I get excited after a screening when someone says “thank you” for showing us this film that made me think about, made me consider about how I thought about euthanasia, depression or supporting a friend who has mental health issues… I think when someone comes to Rendezvous and sees a film and ends up questioning their current position or their current understanding, current feeling, that’s exciting. Because I don’t think film festival should profess, “we are going to change the world”, some festivals do say thst. But, I think instead it’s very meaningful when you meet someone either an artist or filmmaker or audience member who says “wow the film really made me think differently about these issues”. That’s the power of film, right? You have an experience onscreen. It just connects to our life experiences. For me, it’s a very different way than say, painting or sculpture. But, it’s something about experiencing art through time as we live our life in frames, shots, in scene. It’s very parallel to our lives. To me, in my eyes of filmmaker, it can be more powerful experience rather than other artistic platforms.
Q: Do you have any tips to Indonesia about filming mental health issues?
A: I love this question. But, I’ll answer in same way. Just make something. Just try. Be fearless. Don’t be afraid. Speak to your heart. Speak the truth. Don’t be afraid to take risks. I mean filmmaking has become very portable and personal, and more sensible. People should not feel inhibited to pick up the camera. Study cinematography, study film history, study camera operation by watching films. Just pick up the camera, pick up the phone and just tell the story. Share the experience and just try. Share with friends and colleagues, get some feedback. Even online. I prefer to see films in the cinema, I think it’s important to see things projected properly and good sound. And it’s okay to see many films online now and especially if you don’t live where there are physical cinemas.
Q: What are you most memorable films about mental health? You can just name three and what’s special about them?
A: I will start with a recent film called Land of Not Knowing by Steve Sanguedolce from Toronto, Canada. I’m starting with that because Rendezvous is in the middle of the tour showing this film. We were in Tokyo in February. I am going to Taipei on Monday and showing the film on Tuesday with the director and he’s going to Seoul to show it on Friday in South Korea. And I like this film very much, it is an experimental documentary about four artists each have consider suicide. It’s mostly shot on film, celluloid 16mm and hand painted. The visuals are quite experimental. The story is quite narrative. It’s a really strong documentary that follows four people’s stories. For me it’s also sound film as well, you’re hearing a lot of people stories while you are watching. You know it’s not linear in terms of visuals. It’s a really personal exploration. They are all honest about their struggles. It’s really amazing to show up with audience because the discussion is so very deep. Suicide does touch a lot of people. It’s hard to talk about because there is a lot of shame, discomfort.
Ok. Number 2! Paul Agusta’s At The Very Bottom of Everything, to keep it local. 2010, Indonesian film. Paul is in Jakarta, obviously you know. I like this film because it’s very experimental to me in terms of form. How the story is conveyed through the actions and through Paul’s own life. It’s personal story because of his relatives’ life. And to me I think Paul’s film it takes a lot of risks but also very strange and difficult to kind of understand. I admire his willingness to share and take risks.
…Okay now I am trying to talk, just thinking of what’s the next film I am going to share.
Number 3; okay this is the hard one, Rendezvous showed this film in 2015, called Daniel’s World. It’s a documentary from the Czech Republic by Veronika Liskova and it is a documentary about a 25 year old Czech artist, writer and he lives as virtuous pedophile. It means he attracted to young people, but he promises never to do anything. So that’s the virtuous part. He’s promise himself to not hurt anyone. But, the film is amazing, just the cinema verite, to simply follow him at his life. He came out to his friends and family about his situation which is very brave because the reality is very difficult for those with this condition to live each day because of strong stigma. I am proud the fact that we decided to show the film. Because it was the first time in North America. I still think maybe it’s the only time in North America. Some festival committee people were against it, some people are interested and trying to show it. But, we found out that a doctor in Toronto, psychiatrist, one of the world’s leading researcher about pedophilia and he’s done a lot of brain scan studies. And in his views, people are born this way. Same way that they are born either they are gay or lesbian or transgender, they are born with that attraction. They didn’t choose it. He’s done a lot of research to learn what people are living with. So, we ask him to watch and join the panel. We have the film Director on Skype from Prague.
We were nervous to show the film because there could be protest or anger; I personally think the film is very humanistic film. It’s very personal, doesn’t take a position. Telling his story, his community. This portrait feels empathetic instead of rather than say he is right or wrong. He’s just presented in his life. This is real. This happens. We were very nervous. It’s very sensitive topic. It’s second largest attendance that year. It’s very interesting discussion. That’s film is very special to me. Through the experience of showing this film; the audience agreed: “that person is real. he’s human. He’s living with us”. We can do more to help others. You know we cannot shunt him or make him feel wrong or sick. What we can do is try to understand what’s happening.
Q: Any advice for those who want to make film festival program about mental health?
A: Sure. Just like making a film: just do it. Kind of like “Sayang Sayangila Jiwamu” here in Jakarta. They just come up together and they want to make film festival about mental health, you know. They just want to make films, having discussion. That’s just another good thing about film. Film screening is easier now than ever. I don’t want to make it sound like super easy. 🙂 FTP and sharing files. Access to projectors, access to cinema. You know. It’s not always easy, you know there’s money and resources, capitalism, real world shit involved in showing films. Because we are living in this capitalist world but I would over offer to anyone you can reach out to me, reach out to Rendezvous or Sayang Sayangila Jiwamu, other film festival or film programmers, most are very nice and want to help! There are handful of mental health art and film organizations. Easy to find online. My experience continues to grow and move because I talk to new people as well. They are very generous and advice and answering question and sharing the ideas because we committed in these worlds to helping other people to find ways too. Even one screening in someone’s house or university or cultural center or community center. Start with one, doesn’t really matter if it is small. See what happens. Keep going! See you at the cinema.
Scott Miller Berry [b. Detroit] is a filmmaker and cultural worker. By day he’s Managing Director at Workman Arts, an art + mental health organization in Toronto that produces the Rendezvous With Madness. Previously he worked at the Images Festival [2001-2015] where he was director for ten years. He is Co-Chair of the Board at MANO/RAMO [Media Arts Network of Ontario] and has recently screened short films in Montréal, Bangalore, Lisbon, Jakarta, Ottawa, Vienna, Oberhausen, London (UK+Ontario), Hamburg, Québec City, Sackville & Regina. http://cineparlour.tumblr.com/