Reel Girl Talk x Girl, Interrupted
Petula Clark once sang fondly of “downtown,” encouraging anyone listening to go there because a) “there are movie shows”, b) “the lights are much brighter there” and c) “you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares.” While our latest Reel Girl Talk event, taking place at downtown Toronto’s Carlton Cinema and centred on 1999 film Girl, Interrupted, wasn’t a totally carefree affair, we could not be happier with the conversations it started about mental health and wellness, particularly when it comes to women.
Our evening began with a half-hour pre-show, where guests were treated to a Girl, Interrupted-themed MUFF Mix and given a chance to buy some sweet buttons featuring none other than Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. Shortly before 6:30 p.m., Reel Girl Talk producer Emily Gagne came to the stage to introduce the film, explaining why we chose it (it has, unlike most films about mental health, a mainly all-female cast and a screenplay written by women based on a book by a woman!) and giving some background on the incredible speakers who would be joining us after the film. We also heard from Meghan Yuri Young and Vasiliki Marapas, the founders of awesome local initiative (and our Community Partners on the event!) The Sad Collective. (Check them out if you haven’t already, guys!)
For the next two hours, our guests were welcomed to settle in for a film that, while beloved by some (see: Emily, who had a GI poster on her wall), still gets a mixed reaction for its portrayal of what it was like to be a woman living with mental illness in the 1960s. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a group singalong to “Downtown”, but the audience seemed pretty excited to revisit the film, with people still coming in and looking for seats until about 15 minutes in (!!).
Once the film wrapped, Emily introduced our speakers: Tina Hassannia, freelance film critic (Globe and Mail, National Post, RogerEbert.com); Chloe Sosa-Simms, filmmaker and co-founder of Film Fatales Toronto; and Shelley Marshall, artist, activist and founder of Toronto’s Mental Wellness Loft. Tina, who identifies as neurodivergent and is passionate about discussing portrayals of mental illness in her film and TV in her work, lead the conversation, asking Chloe and Shelley to speak candidly about why the film did or didn’t represent their own experiences.
Shelley kicked things off, generously sharing stories from the time she spent in a mental health facility around the same time the film was released. As she revealed, this was actually her first major social event in eight months following recent relapse of her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The part of the film that she found most encouraging was the community that the Suzanna, Lisa and the other patients created among themselves. It’s not unlike what she has done with the Mental Wellness Loft, a beautiful open space where anyone (not just those living with mental illness) is welcomed to come and “take a break from the world.”
“The community part is so important,” she explained. “In the last few months that I opened up the Loft, I thought I did it for other people. I’m a liar. I did it for me.”
She continued, “I’m not mentally ill. I’m mentally ill-equipped to live in a world that does not celebrate my mind and my life and my spirit. I know that I have to find people within my life that rejoice in the little celebrations.”
Other major topics covered over the course of the half-hour discussion included (no joke) the film’s cat (Shelley: “They let them have a cat??”), and what Susanna’s “happy” ending may have suggested about recovery. Chloe specifically spoke about the film’s avoidance of schizophrenia, which the main subject of her documentary, Dan and Margot, lives with daily. Although Chloe definitely yearns for more accurate representations of the illness, she feels it would have been “much too complex” to cover in a film with so many characters dealing with unique issues.
“One of the reasons we wanted to make [Dan and Margot] is because the only portrayals of schizophrenia I’d ever seen were like A Beautiful Mind, which is a gorgeous film, but it’s totally spectacular and sensationalizes schizophrenia in a way that’s not accurate,” Chloe says. “Beyond that, in the media you often see people with schizophrenia committing really violent, atrocious crimes.”
“[Through Margot], I realized schizophrenia looks nothing like the way it’s been covered in the media. I wanted to tell a story of schizophrenia that showed it in a very different light. A story about an average young woman who is trying to find her place in the world like everyone else, except with this added pressure on her of her first psychotic episode.”
We sincerely thank everyone who contributed to the above conversations, especially those who brought insights on specific disorders. We can’t speak for everyone, but we definitely left the theatre feeling moved to seek out more works that give women space to talk about their mental wellness. We hope that you feel the same.
In the meantime, we encourage you to follow the work of Tina, Chloe, Shelley and The Sad Collective. And please feel free to share any other mental health initiatives (local or otherwise) that you feel passionate about below.
The next Reel Girl Talk event is set to take place on September 20. Stay tuned for further details, including the film/s and speaker/s.
All photos taken by Joshua Korngut.