Out of Mind, Out of Sight (2014)
Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival. For more information please visit hotdocs.ca or follow Hot Docs on Twitter.
As a society, we have a tenuous relationship with mental illness. With all of our complexities, it has been a fixture and spot of confusion in the lives of humans for as long as we have existed. There is a fear associated with these sicknesses, a fear of the unknown, a fear of the different. Our past ignorance had the sick being stored away in institutions, like badly behaved livestock meant to be forgotten rather than treated. There has been a change in society’s consciousness toward mental illness, but to call it advanced is decidedly inaccurate. It remains an unwieldy creature that beguiles the understanding of most. Out of Mind, Out of Sight paints a picture of the current state of mental institutions, although it doesn’t add all that much to the conversation.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight attempts to paint a picture with a lot of subjects. However, in its rather short runtime, it doesn’t have nearly the space to give them all their due. Instead, the film draws a series of incomplete portraits that offer glimpses of pictures that we will never see fully realized.
Expanding on the success of his previous documentary, NCR: Not Criminally Responsible, John Kastner returns to Brockville Mental Health Centre for further exploration. Brockville is a forensic psychiatric hospital housing those who have committed violent criminal acts while suffering through mental illness. Over the course of 18 months, Kastner gets to know not only the patients, but also the staff of Brockville. With an eye on four patients in particular, he profiles their day-to-day struggle to get a handle on their lives with hopes to one day rejoin society.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight attempts to paint a picture with a lot of subjects. However, in its rather short runtime, it doesn’t have nearly the space to give them all their due. Instead, the film draws a series of incomplete portraits that offer glimpses of pictures that we will never see fully realized. The peaks of insight hint at a bevy of unreleased footage, in which Kastner develops genuine relationships with his subjects; however this is all speculation. What is actually delivered to the audience is unfocused at best. It meanders for long stretches of time, wandering until it eventually circles back onto itself. This leads to a point of repetitive confusion in which I began to wonder if there was some issue with the playback, rather than poor editing.
Kastner smartly chooses to profile four specific patients, although they are not all created equal. The inclusion of Justine and Sal feel like afterthoughts, bringing little of note to a discussion of the treatment of the individuals or assessments of their past or current states. Perhaps this speaks more to the inability of the director to remove himself from a closeness he has with his subjects, as both Justine and Sal are less open and revelatory in their interviews. It is a frustrating experience, as you yearn to see more from those that the director depicts more interestingly, rather than a dogged devotion to the format. All that being said, the subjects at least offer a mutable and varied image of what constitutes mental illness. The root of violence lingers just beneath the surface on some, while others appear friendly and hospitable. It shows the complex nature of the illness and that the stigma is dismissive of the actual people involved in the cases. All the patients are shown as people first, regardless of their label. The attempt to find the person that is the sufferer, rather than only the affliction forces even the most dismissive to consider a more measured point-of-view.
The film shines when it focuses on the story of Mike Stewart. He is shown as the most level-headed and courteous of the patients, nearly blurring the lines between staff and patient. As the film begins to center upon Mike, it reveals the germ of a great film just struggling to escape from the mediocrity of its surroundings. Kastner gradually uncovers the story of Mike, and the revelation as to how he arrived at Brockville is a gut punch. By the time we learn of his violent past we have met his family, and we have become close with Mike. Perhaps the other patients carry stories of just as much emotional complexity, but Mike is the only one willing to fully open himself to the process. His struggle to find the words to describe his inner turmoil is emotionally wrenching, and Kastner presents it simply, allowing the moment to play out organically to its fullest effect. In documenting Mike’s growth and the rippling ramifications of his illness, Kastner shows his ability to identify and communicate with a strength of story that directly connects with the audience. A great film is capable of making you both think and feel, and however brief the moment is, Out of Mind, Out of Sight accomplishes this with Mike’s story.
In documenting Mike’s growth and the rippling ramifications of his illness, Kastner shows his ability to identify and communicate with a strength of story that directly connects with the audience. A great film is capable of making you both think and feel, and however brief the moment is, Out of Mind, Out of Sight accomplishes this with Mike’s story.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight brings with it an interesting premise, however it is lacking in execution. In an attempt to show the many faces that make up Brockville, director John Kastner gathers plenty of footage, although it is not always used effectively. The scattershot approach lacks a cohesive voice to carry the film forward and rescue it from insignificant mediocrity. In the profiling of the patients, Kastner finds Mike Stewart offering a complex story that speaks to the very nature of mental illness. Mike rescues the film, and Kastner’s film begins to come alive as the patient opens up. Whereas all the patients’ stories must reach past the walls of Brockville, it is only with Mike that we begin to see the full image. It expands the film past being little more than a series of museum-like vignettes, exhibiting a clear voice and unique perspective on mental illness. Unfortunately for Out of Mind, Out of Sight, it is merely a bright spot in an otherwise mundane film.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight brings with it an interesting premise, however it is lacking in execution.