In a city as diverse and outspoken as Toronto, why is it still taboo to talk about an issue that many of us live with everyday? Uneasiness surrounds this subject because, as Matthew Hogue, Programmer for the 17th annual Rendezvous With Madness (RWM) Film Festival says, "Although there are exceptions, the overwhelming popular images of mental illness involve violent, deviant or threatening behaviour."

Apart from media depictions, our experience as urban dwellers doesn't help either, says Hogue. "These negative perceptions are reinforced when people in Toronto cross paths with people living with untreated mental illness on street corners or in the subway. The truth is that, statistically, 20 per cent of Canadians will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives."

By clarifying misconceptions and drawing awareness, RWM hopes to de-stigmatize the issues. "What the festival tries to impress upon its audience is that people suffering from mental illness do not, for the most part, fit the popular image of 'crazy people.'"

Panel discussions accompanying each film will feature filmmakers, mental health professionals, persons living with mental illness.

Dr. David Goldbloom, Professor of Psychiatry at U of T and a CAMH Senior Medical Advisor, will take part in a discussion following the festival's opening night film, Clara, a biopic about Clara Schumann, wife of the German composer Robert Schumann, who, after being tempted by her husband's attractive young protégé, Johannes Brahms, struggles to stay by his side as he descends into madness.

Goldbloom emphasizes the obstacles to understanding mental illness through medical science. "There are no blood tests or x-rays to make diagnoses." During the panel, he will separate fact from myth, and discuss the relationship between creativity, genius, and mental illness.

An amateur pianist and supporter of the Arts, Goldbloom acknowledges the value of cinema in expressing the often scientifically inexplicable. "Film, with its capacity to accelerate time, to provide multiple perspectives and interactions, and to both convey meaning without words and create a complex narrative, provides a terrific window into mental illnesses."

Clara and Takeshi Kitano's Achilles and the Tortoise, a symbolically autobiographical exploration of the artist, bookend the festival with an arts focus.

R. Bruce Elder, one of the Canada’s leading avant-garde filmmakers, will talk about how mental illness shaped the experimental film movement. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Chris Landreth will talk about his latest film, The Spine, and explain how his “psycho-realism” animation techniques reflect a person’s psyche.

One of Hogue's festival favourites is Prodigal Sons, a documentary about a woman who returns home to try to repair her relationship with her brother. "I can’t say too much about it without giving it away, but if you wrote a film like this, no one would believe it - you absolutely can NOT make this stuff up!"

Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival runs Nov. 5-14 at Workman Theatre (1001 Queen St. W) and Workman Arts (651 Dufferin St.). For listings and to purchase tickets, visit www.rendezvouswithmadness.com.

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