Wendy Hill-Tout’s brother had been diagnosed with scizophrenia and was experiencing suicidal idealation when he was discharged from the hospital during a mental health episode.
That was 25 years ago – his family never saw him again.
Now, Hill-Tout is releasing a documentary centred on her family’s search for him on the streets of Vancouver as she examines why so many people with mental illnesses end up homeless or in jail cells instead of receiving health care.
“For sure, my brother was a victim of a system,” Hill-Tout says.
Insanity, the first documentary from the Calgary filmmaker, is a story she feels she had to tell as the writer in her family.
“Very clearly, the POV is it’s told from families,” Hill-Tout says. “It’s what we see all the time.”
The film is set to premiere at the 2022 Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF), which opens Sept. 22.
While her brother’s disappearance remains an emotional topic for her family, Hill-Trout knew telling the story of a real person would help people connect to the message.
“People that are out there in the street or, you know, talking to themselves walking down the road, or acting out, these people have a mental illness and they’re human beings and they have families,” Hill-Tout says. “They have people out there that love them.”
CIFF artistic director Brian Owens says he chose the film because he appreciated Hill-Trout’s direction.
“It’s warmer and more approachable than something that’s based on numbers and news stories. To have that personal angle actually gives you an attachment to it.”
The film also struck a chord with Owens due to his previous work for a community mental health organization.
“I thought the accuracy of the criticisms of the systems that are in place was right there in front of my face,” he says. “I think it’ll help people understand those suffering from mental illness and also might actually create some advocates for people to help improve these systems.”
Feeling that people with mental illnesses are stigmatized and mistreated, Hill-Tout chose to title her film Insanity.
“It’s insane really, how we treat the mentally ill,” she explains.
She was first inspired to tell her family’s story after seeing incidents where people with mental illnesses were killed by police.
“I just knew it was wrong. It’s a lack of training and I know they’re trying to do better, but it’s symptomatic of a larger problem in our society of how we treat people with mental illness and how we don’t understand it.”
Insanity also explores the issues in crisis intervention and underfunding of mental health resources, particularly in Canada.
“We’re just not putting the money into this, but we are putting money into the system. It’s just going to the jails, it’s going to the police.”
The film has been shown to some families impacted by mental illness.
“I was really heartened to find that the families that have seen it were touched by it and also identified with it, they saw themselves and their own family,” she says.
As the film approaches its Sept. 27 world premiere at CIFF, Hill-Tout is hopeful her film will resonate with Calgarians.
“I hope it helps to educate, but also, I guess more than anything else, I hope it affects change.”