The Assessment - The Vacuum Cleaner

Festivals are not thin on the ground in Scotland. Even if you eliminate Edinburgh’s tumultuous period between June and August, there’s still enough creativity to satiate the hunger pangs of the most ravenous culture glutton. With events across the length and breadth of Alba, one of the bigger of these is SMHAFF (Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival). Now in its 8th incarnation, it both celebrates and raises awareness, educates and entertains, empowers and inspires. It’s important that it does all these things because, even though mental health issues are now accepted as legitimate medical concerns, they can still be stigmatised, belittled and misunderstood. Including visual art, dance, theatre, film and plenty of workshops and seminars, Callum Madge looks ahead to some of this year’s highlights.

Mental health is a rare subject for populist entertainment, and as such the extensive brochure bristles with interesting movies you are unlikely to find in your “recommended for you” Netflix menu. The film programme boasts three UK premieres including Ines Sommer and Kathy Berger’s pioneering documentary, Beneath the Blindfold, charting the different methods four torture survivors try for living with their past. Ana Ana, billed as a ‘cinematic poem’, is also about people moving on with their lives but instead depicts four Egyptian women living in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, while in the inspiring Alive Inside (winner of the Audience Award at Sundance 2014) director Michael Rossato-Bennett follows founder of Music and Memory, Dan Cohen, on his mission to demonstrate the restorative power of music for Alzheimer’s sufferers. Closer to home, there’s Scottish input from David Graham Scott’s Iboga Nights, who, having successfully used the compound Ibogaine to lose his own drug dependency, examines its effectiveness for other users. Films have multiple screening times and locations, for more details please see the full brochure.

Iboga Nights

For those whom the big screen doesn’t whet the metaphorical whistle there are plenty of live performances to get your waters stirring. After a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Mental, The Vacuum Cleaner returns to Scotland with The Assessment, a piece challenging current methods for assessing mental health patients (The Arches, October 14-15). Also at The Arches is HOWL[ing]. Taking inspiration from Allen Ginsberg’s 1995 poem HOWL, Drew Taylor and Julia Doogan present a musical reflection on Scotland’s recent divisive decision, pondering the situation her citizens now find themselves in (Traverse Theatre, October 16; The Arches, October 21). Teaming up with Scotland’s creative ageing festival, Luminate, Scottish theatre company Vanishing Point’s Tomorrow, is a visual and dreamlike exploration of what it is to grow old – an increasingly relevant issue as life expectancies rise (Tramway, October 7-11). Away from the central belt, Ismael Velasco’s solo performance The Life and Nearly Death of Riley blends stand-up comedy and physical theatre with animation and multimedia to explore the themes around suicide (various venues in Orkney and Shetland, October 14-21). Also part of Luminate, Julie McNamara’s Let Me Stay, is a study into the strains on relations for families that have a member with Alzheimer’s (various venues in Skye and Cove, October 24-29).

Tomorrow. Image credit Victor Franowski

If none of this piques your interest there is a plethora of other activities with which to absorb your attention. Visual art exhibitions like The Art of Caring, a peek into the lives of carers through their art (Ardach Health Centre, October 01-24) and Art in the Pac, a display of pieces by artists with mental health experiences (Paisley Arts Centre, October 01-09) sit amongst musical productions like the Falkirk Tryst Orchestra October Concert (Falkirk Town Hall, October 03) and Music Gives You the Power to Protest, a blues jam to lose your own blues (The Malt Mill, October 01, 08 & 16). Laughter is often touted as ‘the best medicine’ and you can test the theory at comedy events like Stand Up for Mental Health (The Drouthy Cobbler, October 29) and A Buddy Good Laugh (Paisley Arts Centre, October 16). Whereas bookworms can let someone else do the page turning as author Martin Stepek reads extract from his new novel Mindful Living (various venues, October 02-18).

Martin Stepek - Mindful Living

But this isn’t just a festival for spectating – it encourages joining in too. This enthusiasm for interactive events helps dispel any perceived stigmas that can be associated with mental health but more importantly, provide an invaluable resource for anybody currently in their own predicament. These seminars include: Keep the Beat, a drumming workshop that aims to help combat stress (Paisley Shopping Centre, October 16); Write and Read Here, where participants will learn how consuming specific titles can have a positive influence on mood (NHS Education for Scotland, October 03); Addictions, a drama workshop for people aged twelve to eighteen to consider the impacts of various addictive stimuli (Motherwell Concert Hall, October 02) and Awesome Animation Workshop, where those involved can create their own animated film using Lego (Photomedia Studio, October 16).

This preview is only snapshot of the festival’s full programme, there are many other creative performances, exhibitions and workshops to discover. For a complete listing of SMHAFF 2014 events, please click here.