Podcast Episode: Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival 2013
Category: Mental health
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
HT - Heidi Tweedie
KW - Keith Walker
LK - Lee Knifton
RW - Richard Warden
DS - Douglas T Stuart
CE - Chris Evans
RH - Roger Hutchison
CS - Chris Salt
CM - Carrie Marshall
JH - Jackie Hodges
HT Hello and welcome to the Highland Festival event roundup 2013, a programme exploring this years Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival Highland contribution.
I am Heidi Tweedie, Highland Festival Publicity Coordinator and Producer of the National Festival Podcast. The 6 years I have been involved in the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival have seen it grow from a handful of events to a wide reaching national cultural event that includes film, music, visual art, new media and much more … created the challenge of preconceptions and stigma surrounding mental health. The festival is administered nationally by a team supported by the Mental Health Foundation based in Glasgow. However, it’s the growth of the festivals regional teams that have boosted local involvement and grass routes impact across Scotland. To understand how the Highland Region sits within this, let’s hear from another member of the team.
KW I am Keith Walker, I am the programme coordinator for the Highland Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. I work for Highland Council as a policy officer for Health Improvement and as part of that, mental health improvement and mental health inclusion are major focus areas. I am also a trustee of Samaritans and a volunteer in the Inverness branch of Samaritans.
The Highland Festival has been running for 5 years now and for the first year we really dipped our toe in the water with a programme of films and one drama, and very quickly realised the power of the arts to communicate about mental health and to get people thinking differently about mental health. I first got involved because my job with Highland Council involves promoting mental wellbeing and promoting inclusion for people with mental ill health and I saw that it was a good opportunity to engage with that whole subject matter in a very different way. I think my experience in the first year of the festival, up here, was that it’s a very powerful way to engage with people and to engage with people in a way that they are not even expecting, so say somebody will come along to a cultural event expecting to be entertained and go away finding that they have actually been made to think a little as well, and perhaps in some cases, had some of their conceptions about mental health challenged and altered, and I can’t think of anything other than the arts which can achieve that, almost by stealth. And that experience encouraged me to stay involved in the festival and it’s grown in quite a lot since then, and it’s reached the point now where I think it’s a major part of the cultural year in this part of the world.
HT The Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival kicks off each year with a grand launch. It’s designed to provide a preview of events, thank those involved for their planning in commitments and engage with media and key local supporters to ensure positive audience numbers. This year the launch came North to the Highlands, at Ian Court Theatre on the 19th of September.
The launch has always been held in the central belt before, I think the furthest from either of the 2 cities it’s been is Paisley in the past and that’s really quite close. There has been a growing recognition that the Festival in Highlands has quite a critical mass and a couple of years ago we were looking at the audience figures for Edinburgh and realised that actually our audience figures compare very well with Edinburgh and given the small population and the widely dispersed population, we felt that we had actually achieved quite a lot through that, and we rather bluntly raised that with the national team and said, you know, “here we are, we feel a little bit like an outpost of the Festival”, and I think they heard what we said and kind of rewarded us, if you like, by letting us host the national launch for the first time outside of the central belt, bringing it to the centre of the Highlands, and giving us the opportunity to present some highland culture and present some of the good things that we do in the festival up here in the Highlands.
Let’s hear from the festival launch with some singing from the Joyful Noise Choir, Festival Director, Lee Knifton keynote speech and Richard Warden, from the Renfrewshire Regional Team.
LK We are delighted to be here and I am delighted that you have a starring role in the festival this year, and partly that’s symbolic, it’s symbolically important that you are seen to be at the heart of the festival and leading the festival. Too often, and we have maybe been a bit guilty of it ourselves, but too often national initiatives are the central belt and they talk about other areas as Regions, and it’s not right and I think this year we can truly say that this is a National Scottish Festival. But it’s not just symbolic, it’s also because year on year you are producing brilliant and high quality and socially engaging festival programmes and it’s a real credit to you for that.
RW I loved it, I am still smiling, it was a lot of fun, and a lot of serious stuff comes up at an event like this but it was also very enjoyable as it should be. I am Richard Warden, I am involved with the festival in a couple of ways. I am in the film team for the National Festival and I also work with the Renfrewshire version of the festival, largely in film as well. I think it just, in a very tangible way, demonstrates the reach of the festival, it’s very easy in Scotland to, as we said at the launch, to be central belt focused and to actually take that time to come all this way and I know this is not as far away as things happen from the central belt, but just for someone who lives in the central belt and does most of his work there, to actually spend the time to come up … right, this thing has a far reach geographically and otherwise symbolically, I think it works to demonstrate just what a far reaching festival it is in so many ways.
HT One of the highlights of the launch was a live performance from Douglas T Stuart of the BMX Bandits. Douglas was also a key contributor to the Highlands first event of 2013, Lyrics in Life. This audio programme, available for download from the festival website, explored the power of lyrics from the perspective from songwriters, performers and listeners and included live recordings from Carol Lawler at Belladrum, alongside an in-depth interview with Douglas, exploring his relationship with music and mental wellbeing.
DS I do think it’s a funny mixture of things being cathartic and almost putting yourself into an even darker place if you were in a dark place at first. But for me, I think one of the things that I realised after writing songs for a few years, was I had an opportunity to potentially take something in my life that had maybe been painful or in my mind, an ugly situation and create something beautiful out of it.
I think the fact that it’s a virtual event means it’s accessible from wherever you are. The Highlands is a very big place and we try to get events as far and as wide across the Highlands as we can but it’s not possible to reach every community and it’s not possible to reach people living in very remote places, that’s what the virtual event can do, and it gives us an opportunity to explore creativity and mental health in a different way, to actually talk to one or two individuals in some depth about their thoughts about the creative process and the benefit for mental wellbeing and the benefit for recovery from mental ill health as well, and that’s a depth that you can’t really get into in live performance.
HT As Keith explains, the Highland Festival team is always keen to support events as far and wide across the region as possible. This year was no exception, with the next event on the calendar hosted in an area previously unreached, Strontian in Western Lochaber, over an hours drive from Fort William. This is a village with a thriving community who are already keen supporters of mental health awareness in the arts. Key to the development of this diverse and very successful event which contained so many features it became almost a festival in its own right, was local, Chris Evans, already a keen supporter of similar work as an active member of HUG, Action for Mental Health, VOX and Advocacy Highland, she shared some of the process of setting up the 2 day event, the vital community input and why she felt it was so well received.
CE I have been aware of the Scottish Mental Health and Arts and Film Festival, I think, since it first started but living in an inner rural community, I am geographically far away from many of the events. I also happen to have the brochure from last years festival, which some friends of mine saw, and went “oh, this looks interesting” and they are a group of people who go to a community based support group called “Ewan’s Room”, and amongst them also somebody who helps facilitate at the Arts festival in Strontian, so she had some time and offered to help. We are also fortunate in having a very attractive, modern community centre as part of Ardnamurchan High School, with big facilities including a theatre. Basically it was a lot of community support, including some funding from the community council to set up some programme which we thought members of our locality would be interested in. So it started off on the Friday evening with a music event which features some musicians from a Support in Mind drop in centre in Fort William and also some other local musicians on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, so basically it turned into a sort of ceilidh and that went down very well. We had something like 14 plus, we didn’t count them, on the Saturday we had a range of things, we had creative writing as part of the day, there was something called ‘A Big Read’, where people who had read Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy, got together to discuss what they thought of the book, there were some fantastic teas available. In the evening we showed 2 films, a short one about the life and work of Angus MacPhee, called Hidden Gifts, and we then showed (unclear 17:20). We estimate that during the day we had somewhere between 50 and 100 people ranging in ages from about 8 year old to I think up to, certainly well over 80 and all had a very positive attitude, and I have provisionally booked the same event for October the 4th next year. I don’t think it would have worked ’top down’ if you like, sort of thing, if someone had bothered to come in from miles away and say “oh, we are going to have a festival here”, it wouldn’t have had a great attendance, I don’t think. People sort of chipped in to help, they know the constraints, they know who to approach if you think … “ah, if I actually do need a minibus or some transport, where do I actually get one from and who can drive it and where is it not going to cost a fortune … " it’s terribly important when you haven’t got buses and you haven’t got taxis, and also somewhere that gets left out of national things. So there is very much a community spirit about the place.
Part of it is, there is quite an interest in mental health issues, I suppose due to the formation of this group called Ewan’s Room, which was set up by the parents of a young man who took his own life 5 or 6 years ago and they are quite prominent in the community. No professionals involved in setting it up, but people who may be a bit lonely, may have mental health problems and just want to get out of the house for 2 or 3 hours, and that’s got a lot of support. There is also an awful lot of interest in arts and crafts and creativity over here, so it seems a sort of, an ideal place, if you could, to engage with the festival that’s going on, that has a national status. I was just reading some of the feedback forms and what has come through is the people who came, say from Inverness, and stayed over for the weekend, they were just absolutely blown away by the welcome they got, the friendliness, the community spirit in the place which was absolutely great.
HT The festival was clearly off to an excellent start. The first week of October saw exhibitions in Brora and Golspie, interactive workshops featuring clay and knitting in Inverness and Keith’s favourite event of the whole festival. The big highlight of all was the most wonderful afternoon spent at Eden Court, learning more about Angus MacPhee, hearing about him from different people, different peoples angles on his story and actually getting a chance at trying the reading for myself as well and just kind of immersing ourselves for a day in what’s a truly inspirational story.
The story of Angus MacPhee, famed for his wonderful grass weavings, whilst a patient at Craig Dunain Mental Hospital in Inverness, was explored at depth with a day of events to celebrate his life. Starting with a talk from author of Angus Weaver of Grass, Roger Hutchison, continuing with poetry inspired by Angus’s life by Chris Salt and then a wonderful weaving workshop led by Joanne Carr.
RH You see, Angus MacPhee is known because he spent exactly 50 years of his life in Craig Dunain Hospital, or Inverness Lunatic Asylum, as it was called when he first went there in 1946, and during that time he made a variety of extraordinary sculptures, chiefly items of clothing, out of meadow grass. Virtually everything that he made was either left to compost in the fields under rhododendron bushes, where he would weave them, or was actually just scraped off with the rest of the detritus.
CS ‘The Loss’. His mother lived on the tip of memory. Known but half forgotten, a missing word, a presence, that smelled of lowland fields and sang a lullaby. A language, learned at her knee in Uist, seldom spoken, unfinished sentences in need of punctuation.
So perhaps, if you don’t mind, could you just explain to me what you are doing, if you know what you are doing? Do we know what we are doing? No. Well we have got 2 strands of grass which we are twisting around and then crossing back over the other strand and we are just building up a nice little twisted rope, I guess. It’s kind of … the world has disappeared suddenly and we are very focused on the task I have to say, it’s very relaxing.
Do you find doing this sort of practical thing, it allows you to kind of understand perhaps why Angus wanted to do this?
I think totally, because it is that the world has just disappeared and you are totally focused on the task and nothing else exists, or it hasn’t for the last 10 minutes for me anyway.
You say it was 10 minutes, that was 2 hours ago - laughter.
HT After the weaving workshop, we felt truly immersed in Angus’ craft, but the icing on the cake was a thought provoking and emotive guided walk with Carrie Marshall, of Creativity and Care, around the grounds of the old Craig Dunain building, where Angus would weave his work.
CM When he went to war, the fist place he went to was down in England and he did some army training down there for 7 months, he did that, and then he was sent to the Pharaoh Isles with 500 men. That 100 men had actually left Uist, that was a huge number, 500 men went to the Pharaoh Isles and some of the research into that was showing that they had quite a cruel army officer there and some of the things that they were made to do, like run through really cold water, strip off, you know just sort of things .. because all they were doing all day was marching and stopping the Germans from invading the Pharaoh Islands, there wasn’t much else to do and so the arm think up various games and things to keep people controlled, and so he did go through quite a tough time there.
HT The Angus celebration culminated later that evening in a sold out production by Horse and Bamboo Theatre. This was one of many touring productions shared by Highland and other festival regions. In particular, the Highland team worked closely with neighbours, Moray Feel Good Festival, to share ideas and to make resources stretch that bit further. This included the Random Act of Kindness Day, on World Mental Health Day, 10th of October, where people were encouraged to feel good by doing good, and share some of their experiences to inspire others. And although both of our festival calendars were diverse and locally specific, we shared some key powerful touring dramas, as Keith explains.
KW There has been a strong theme about carers and caring and changing relationships, particularly through Couldn’t Care Less and Tell Me Your Secrets and I will Shout Them Out, both plays, one produced locally, one produced nationally, telling the stories of people whose lives are changing and whose relationships with people they have lived with all their lives are changing through illness, and through a changed role in becoming a carer for somebody who once was your carer, and it really gives us a chance to look at our lives slightly differently and understand what goes on when those kind of relationships change, when somebody you have known and loved all of your life becomes a different person through dementia.
That girl from the social work, she was a nice wee lass … but pretty young and just qualified when we first met her and to be honest, pretty clueless about life.
Hello, my name is Jenny and I am your social worker and I am here today to talk to you both about the choices and services that I can help put into place, working collaboratively with our partnership organisations to help re-enable you to live a more participative life in your community.
-Still, I mean it was really good of her to give him a lift to his new place, you know? He looked so small and defenceless getting into her car with his box of trinkets and his suitcase.
JH I am Jackie Hodges and I wrote ‘Tell Me Your Secrets and I Will Shout Them Out’. It is based on a true story that unfortunately I was that patronising social worker in the play, I did pat people quite a lot when I was first starting out and it was a story that really stuck with me and actually has had a massive impact on me and my work. I made a lot of assumptions with that couple and nearly everything that was in that story has got a grain of truth and it’s been something that’s kept with me for a long period of time, Ella’s Story has always been there in the background, and I have written little bits about it before, but then I submitted it to play piece, it made me think about it in a bit more depth and thought there was probably more to it.
HT Each year the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival has a theme, with 2013 focusing on reality. This was explored in many creative ways throughout the highland events. From a theatrical representation of life as a carer, as we heard there from Jackie Hodges, to the extraordinary noetic art exhibited by Creativity and Care. These are sculptures from individuals affected by mental health issues expressing what they would like to have in their brains. It’s a difficult one to explain, so don’t take my word for it and check out some of the pictures online. The annual awards and film evening also explored the reality theme and included a wide range of voices, both in live readings and in film.
Speaker Yes, well it’s the third time we have run that evening and really we are still with the original idea of it, which is to showcase films and written work that’s been produced in the Highlands that highlights creative work in the Highlands and highlights the work of organisations working in the field of mental health in the Highlands. It gets people who have participated in making the films to see them on the big screen and that’s so empowering, and these are all films that are produced on a shoestring by local charities, by local artists and local creative people. It’s people reading their own poetry that’s come from creative writing sessions, none of them are professionals and the whole of it is just the most warm, loving, wonderful event. People come out of there having seen their own work on the big screen, glowing with pride and rightly so.
Firstly, at school I was organising a Christmas party for my form, some folk suggested we invite girls, but I decided to invite my sister’s best friend, who I’d often seen at our house. When she came, she was ushered into our dining room and I said, “I don’t know how to go about this but …” and she said to me, “I would love to come with you to your party on Wednesday at half past 7”, clearly she had been well briefed by my sister. And then to her horror, I said “well when can I come round and ask your Mother’s permission?” When we came to the night of the party, a friend of mine, John, had invited his sister, as a conscientious host I asked her to dance as I felt that it must be quite boring to dance with your own brother all the time. So I asked her for the pleasure of a dance. At this point I know in the depths of my soul that my motives were quite pure, however I asked her to dance again, my motives were no longer quite so pure for I now felt there was some justification for women, other than my Granny and Aunt Bet, being on this planet.
Okay, tell me what you thought about this evening.
Yes, I would just like to say I think this is the best thing I have ever seen at Eden Court and I come to the Court a lot and see opera and plays and there was just something about it tonight, it was so personal and so creative and so exciting, probably because I knew some of the people involved that meant quite a lot to me, and the quality of the film and the creative writing I found particularly moving, so I thought it was brilliant.
Oh, thank you so much.
Fantastic feedback from the Words and Film Night, testament to the hard work, creativity, commitment and honesty that we are so lucky to have from individuals involved in the festival each year.
Yes, the people involved with our festival put a lot of themselves into it, we run on a very small budget and we eke that out quite a long way and we do that because the people involved in the festival are committed, they commit their own time and they commit their own resources to it, and we really are very grateful to the people who do that.
It’s impressive to reflect that we have had 24 events this year and reached around 2000 people, massive figures for a community and voluntary based festival in a largely rural and often remote location.
What’s really pleasing is that the audience is a diverse range of ages, we have always wanted to try and reach younger people as well as younger people, we have achieved that again. We have still managed to stage events outside of Inverness, it’s always much easier to host events in Inverness, that’s where a lot of people are, that’s where the good venues are. We have still managed to take events out, particularly the creative Strontian event, but some of the workshops and exhibitions that have been held around the Highlands mean that we have been reaching people who can’t normally access mainstream arts events, and the mix is as powerful as ever, we have people coming along who live with mental ill health, we have people coming along who care for people with mental health, but we have people coming along because the art attracts them and they have had no prior experience of mental health and mental ill health, and it’s that powerful mix which really can challenge stigma and can challenge attitudes.
HT What’s important to all of us involved in the Highland Festival, it’s not only that we reach a wide range of people with festival events, increasing the credibility of art produced by those directly involved with mental health issues, as well as showcasing more mainstream productions, but also that there is a legacy beyond October each year. It’s been a fantastic year for Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival in the Highlands, however I am already looking forward to seeing what develops out of the new partnerships, networks, friendships, inspiration and ideas shared throughout the last month.
You have been listening to the Highland Festival Event roundup, 2013. Thank you to all the contributors in this programme and to everybody involved in making this years festival such a success. To find out more, leave us feedback or get involved, visit highlandmhfestival.com, Tweet us @smaf_highland or check out our previous podcast episodes at mhfestival.com.
This was a Moximedia production, presented and produced by Heidi Tweedie for Iriss.fm.
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