Hot Docs 2014: Out of Mind, Out of Sight (John Kastner)

2014_hotdocs_stock_imageWhen I was a high school senior, each week we had an afternoon when we would do charitable works. It was a Catholic high school.

We were given a number of options, and one of them was to help out at the local hospital in the psych ward. I thought I would be able to do some good there, and decided that would be where I go.

After the first time, I was so completely unnerved by my experience that I asked to join another group and do something else. The whole experience was off-putting and troubled me deeply.

That was how I felt at the beginning of John Kastner’s new documentary, Out of Mind, Out of Sight, which has its world premiere at the Isabel Bader theatre at 6:30.

Allowed access over the course of 18 months to document the lives of patients inside the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital, cameras and crew are permitted into what both patients and caregivers call a potentially dangerous location.

Through the course of the 88 minute documentary we are introduced to four patients, Michael, Carole, Sal, and Justine as they deal with their mental illnesses, and the incidents that caused them to be placed within these confines, as well as the hope, and journey they undertake in a hope to be released into free society.

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Of the four stories, Michael’s is featured the most, and with good reason. The camera seems to love this young, good-looking man, and he in return opens up to share his knowledge of not only the hospital, but his own tortured past.

Michael, who suffers from schizophrenia, was found Not Criminally Responsible in the death of his mother, and while he knows intellectually, that he is not responsible, he’s never been able to forgive himself for what happened, and he carries it with him endlessly, his shoulders slumped, sloughing off the young confident man we meet in pictures of his youth and teen years. It’s heartbreaking.

The documentary shows us what goes on behind the gates and locked doors, the use of medication, and restraints if need be.

In a place where violence and anger seems to be simmering just beneath the surface, the moments of levity we as viewers, as well as the patients, are given made me smile. It also made some of the nurses laugh, as they talk briefly about patient “relations” in the ward.

But that brief moment of joy is isolated as we spend time with Carole, who threw herself from her balcony, and now has a pronounced limp and moves awkwardly. Her persona can turn on a dime, and she is haunted by voices. She’s also fiercely jealous of anyone making eyes at her boyfriend, Sal.

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Sal is fidgety and anxious, suffering from schizophrenia, and of the four patients we spend time with, seems the loneliest. He, like most everyone else there, is struggling to connect with himself, other patients, and the staff.

Justine, of the four, scared me the most, self-abusive and wanting attention, she will escalate situations until they are resolved the way she wants.

But that is all just on the surface, each of them, and those amazing people who work with them, Dr. John Bradford, Mark Earle, Nancy Wooding, Debbie Vallentgoed, Charles De Cou, Susan Jansman, and Dr. Jonathan Gray are human, with wants desires, needs and dreams, and Kastner’s film did something through its screening that I didn’t expect… My sense of fear, and anxiety about mental wards was gently pushed aside as he humanized the faces, names and stories of those he introduces us to, replacing my fear with compassion.

And I cannot think of a higher compliment to pay than that. It brought about an emotional change in me, and is a fantastic watch.

If you miss it this evening, Out of Mind, Out of Sight screens again April 30 at 10:00pm at the Isabel Bader,  and a final screening on May 4 at 1 pm at the Lightbox.

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