Interview with Jeff Wright of the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival
The 2013 edition of the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival “Changing Perspectives” launches in Toronto on November 11, 2013. Focusing on discussion of mental health and addiction issue, this annual signature event produced by Workman Arts is now in its 10th year. This year’s festival, the largest of its kind, is helmed by new program manager Jeff Wright. Wright brings an impressive CV to the position – he’s the founder of Toronto’s independent screening series, Refocus. He’s also the film programmer for Canada’s largest music festival, CMW, and a member of the programming team at the Calgary Underground Film Festival and their new documentary festival, CUFF Docs.
I had the opportunity to ask Wright a few questions about this year’s Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival and some of the challenges of programming a social issues festival.
Q: This year’s theme for the Rendezvous with Madness film festival is Changing Perspectives. Please explain what that means in terms of programming and what motivated you to pursue this thematic thread.
A: I think that changing perspectives has always been the goal for Rendezvous, but it seemed like the right time now to say it explicitly in all of our marketing materials. It also lets people know that if they attend our festival, they’re going to be seeing films with strong viewpoints, and that they might just leave thinking differently about mental health.
Q: Discussing mental illness can be difficult, especially in the public arena. What are some of the particular challenges of programming a film festival centered around mental health issues?
A: One of the festival’s main focuses is to eliminate the discrimination and prejudice that people who suffer from mental illness are often the target of. Each of our screenings includes a panel that include mental health professionals, filmmakers, and people with lived experience, so that when people come, they see how easy it should be to discuss mental illness. If the world as a whole were as safe an environment for someone to discuss mental health issues they might be dealing with as our festival, we’d all be so much better off. We would be able to seek help without embarrassment or fear that someone might judge us, and we’d all be much happier.
Q: Many of the films in the festival are independent productions and hard-to-see outside festivals of this sort. How do you discover the films and what are the criteria used to include them in the programme?
A: I think that a beautiful part of this year’s line-up is that we’re starting to see that the films aren’t as niche as they maybe would have been in the past. Some of the subject matter might be too difficult for some other film festivals that are more geared towards slick Hollywood-style productions, but our line-up this year is full of films that are going to have the ability and support to reach larger audiences after they premiere at Rendezvous. Our opening night film, SHORT TERM 12 is one of the best reviewed films of the year, RUNNING FROM CRAZY screened at Sundance AND Tribeca and has the support of Oprah Winfrey behind it, SOLE SURVIVOR was recently purchased by CNN, who just premiered BLACKFISH on television. I think we’re entering a really exciting time where mental health is going to become an even stronger theme in films than it already is.
Q: Ultimately, cinema is a form of mass entertainment and even in a film festival devoted to heightening public awareness about a social issue, the audience must be in part entertained. How do you balance the dichotomy between social message and entertainment?
A: I have to admit that before I started working at Rendezvous with Madness, I had never been to the festival for that very reason. I had a preconceived notion that the social message would overwhelm everything else, and that it wouldn’t be much fun to go to. But I can assure everyone that because of that, I’ve been sure to keep that in mind while we were making our programming decisions. There are definitely a few films that might bring you down a bit, but those films will leave audiences with new ways of looking at mental illness and addiction, and hopefully a new fire to discuss or even just be more aware of the issues. Entertainment value was a huge element for us this year though, and we’ve put together a programme that is full of thrills, imagination, laughs, and passion. The variety also, is very important, so that audiences aren’t going to see films about the exact same thing every night. You’ll find it very difficult to be bored between November 11th and 16th if you’re attending Rendezvous with Madness.
Q: What film in the 2013 programme are you most excited about presenting?
A: It’s cliché to say that it’s too difficult to pick, but I swear that if a festival has done a good job, it’s always true. Our opening night film, SHORT TERM 12 is going to floor audiences for sure. I’m also very excited to be screening the Canadian Premieres of French romantic comedy, NUTS, about a man who upon being released of a mental health care facility, makes his one and only goal, getting back the love of his life; and also of Italian drama, MIELE (HONEY), which looks at both the subject of euthanasia, and also how people often don’t consider mental illness as serious as terminal illnesses because of its often invisible nature. I’m also beyond thrilled to be welcoming Paul Gilmartin to the festival for the very first live recording in Canada of his amazing podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour. Scott Thompson from Kids in the Hall and Hannibal is going to join him to discuss how mental illness has affected his life.
I could essentially rundown the entire line-up, but it’s probably easiest for people to just go to www.rendezvouswithmadness.com to check out the rest of the line-up.
Thanks so much for taking the time to ask me about the festival, and for encouraging the discussion of mental health.
The Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival runs from November 11 to November 16, 2013 in Toronto. For a complete list of films and events, and to purchase tickets, visit the festival website. Check back at Pretty Clever Films as we preview some of the films offered in the festival.