There was a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine this weekend. Although it was about the author’s father and not her brother, the similarities in dealing with the system felt like a deja vu to me.
I am presently in the midst of hoping for criteria that Duanne creates to allow “imminent” danger to himself or others without anything really bad happening. I have been so willing to jump through the hoops of the system because our sad history of mistreating the mentally ill. When I was in college, my film professor/mentor Michael Roemer showed us a personal copy of Fredrick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies, a searing documentary that had been court-ordered banned from exhibition.
“Just before the film was due to be shown at the 1967 New York Film Festival, the government of Massachusetts tried to get an injunction banning its release. The government claimed that the film violated the patients’ privacy and dignity. Although Wiseman received permission from all the people portrayed or the hospital superintendent (their legal guardian), Massachusetts claimed that this permission could not take the place of valid release forms from the inmates. It also claimed that Wiseman breached an "oral contract” giving the state government editorial control over the film. However, a New York state court allowed the film to be shown. In 1968, however, Massachusetts Superior Court judge Harry Kalus ordered the film yanked from distribution and called for all copies to be destroyed, citing the state’s concerns about violations of the patients’ privacy and dignity.
Wiseman appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which in 1969 allowed it to be shown only to doctors, lawyers, judges, health-care professionals, social workers, and students in these and related fields. Wiseman appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. Wiseman has pointed out that he received permission from all of the people portrayed in the film or else their legal guardian, in this case the superintendent of Bridgewater. He believes that the government of Massachusetts, concerned that the film portrayed a state institution in a bad light, intervened to protect its own reputation. The state intervened after a social worker in Minnesota wrote to Governor John Volpe expressing shock at a scene involving a naked man being taunted by a guard. The dispute marked the first known instance in the history of the American film industry that a film was banned from general distribution for reasons other than obscenity, immorality or national security.
Little changed until 1987, when the families of seven inmates who died at the hospital sued the hospital and state. Steven Schwartz represented one of the inmates. Schwartz’s client who was “restrained for 2 ½ months and given six psychiatric drugs at vastly unsafe levels - - choked to death because he could not swallow his food. Schwartz claims that, “There is a direct connection between the decision not to show that film publicly and my client dying 20 years later, and a whole host of other people dying in between. In fact, “In the years since Mr. Wiseman made ‘Titicut Follies’, most of the nation’s big mental institutions have been closed or cut back by court orders. In addition, “the film may have also influenced the closing of the institution featured in the film.” (Wikipedia)
Because of those images, indelibly etched in my mind’s eye, I have had the patience to deal with a system that is broken in every way, albeit a reaction to the way things were. Maybe this film can help influence the over-correction in the system where it is nearly impossible to provide care and care that is, indeed, available.
Duanne saw the Kickstarter site yesterday. He “liked” it and reposted it on his Facebook page. Of course everyday, I worry about exploiting him for the greater good. It has been interesting to see how the stigma of mental illness is affecting my extended family. The American side of the family has come out of the woodwork and been tremendously supportive. The Mexican side of the family (with one exception) has stone-walled me and the topic. I know it is cultural and I know that shame is toxic.
So, onward and upward toward our goal. Please take an active part in telling people about the project. I know that we get funded. Thanks.
Sandra Luckow is an award winning filmmaker based in New York City. Her films include: Sharp Edges; Belly Talkers; A World Within; That Way Madness Lies…
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