New Zealand documentary Mental Notes is now returning for limited seasons at select cinemas around New Zealand, after earning critical acclaim and large, enthusiastic audiences earlier this year as part of the World Cinema Showcase.
“I was really gratified with the response the film got during its handful festival screenings,” says Mental Notes’ director Jim Marbrook, who spent three years making the film. “Now I’m really looking forward to sharing the film with more New Zealanders around the country.”
Marbrook also hopes his film will encourage the Government to publically apologise to the victims of institutionalised abuse.
Mental Notes tells the often shameful story of this country’s psychiatric institutions, a story that remains largely unknown despite a 2007 report by a government-appointed forum detailing corroborated evidence of poor practice and abuse in government-run mental hospitals. While the government accepted the forum’s report at the time of its release, there has never been an official acknowledgement of its findings, let alone an apology.
There was further evidence of official indifference about the issue last month, when a Justice Ministry representative declined to say how the Government would respond to a letter from the United Nations’ committee against torture. The committee’s letter enquired whether there would be further investigation into allegations of child torture at the now-closed Lake Alice psychiatric hospital, given police closed an investigation in 2009 without laying charges against any former staff.
“One of the things that led me to make Mental Notes,” says director Jim Marbrook, “was my realisation that the patients’ stories were missing from the official histories of New Zealand’s psychiatric hospitals. I hope the film goes some way to addressing this absence.
“What the film can’t make up for, though, is the lack of an official acknowledgement of what went on in those places. I challenge anyone who doesn’t think a formal apology is absolutely appropriate and necessary to watch Mental Notes and then try to make that argument.
“As Kiwis we like to think of ourselves as being the citizens of a fair and just society, but the Government’s continued silence on this subject is a real stain on that sense of ourselves and the kind of country we live in.
“What should also be a source of national shame is the way the Government is currently trying to buy the silence of some of those who’ve suffered these injustices,” Marbrook says, in reference to recent reports that former patients involved in a litigation process are being approached with cash offers in exchange for indemnifying the Government from any potential civil proceedings.
“Not only is this an attempt to sweep these scandals back under the rug, but what about the survivors not involved in legal proceedings? They and their experiences continue to be completely ignored by our elected representatives.”
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand chief executive Judi Clements has endorsed Mental Notes as “a powerful documentary sharing the impact of psychiatric institutions on the lives of both residents and professionals. Although sad and grim in parts, it also has messages of hope and shows the benefit of human relationships and compassion to our mental health and wellbeing.”
Critics have also been enthusiastic. Dominion Post and Radio New Zealand, National film reviewer Graeme Tuckett has recommended Mental Notes as “a stunning film: moving, funny, and – even though I hate this word – important”, while the NZ Herald’s Peter Calder has praised the film for its “measured, unsensationalist tone and its focus on the survivors rather than the historical horrors”, noting that “it’s not simply a catalogue of victimhood; its subjects’ stories are full of humour and hope”.
Confirmed cinema dates for Mental Notes at time of writing are:
Paramount, Wellington: from 21 June
Metropolis, Dunedin: 21-22 & 25-26 June
Academy, Auckland: from 23 June
Dome, Gisborne: 1 & 5 July
Hollywood, Christchurch: from 5 July