Column: Power of the small screen

Organizer is all for breaking down stigmas around mental health, but he runs all kinds of films

Monday night’s movie screening started earlier than I’d figured.

I thought there was time to sneak home from work, eat dinner and put my kid to bed, before rushing off to cover that Monday movie thing I’ve been hearing about.

Turns out it’s the best kept secret around.

I walked into the hallway of the Eric Martin Pavilion at 8 p.m. There’s something about the smell of an old hospital that can slow time. By my count I was 90 minutes late for the start of that night’s documentary, Wiebo’s War.

No sooner was I through the door of the pavilion when I stumbled onto the group. Five people, two couches and a 30 inch tube TV. In the hallway?

So this is Movie Monday?, I thought. It’s smaller than I had predicted, and it seems like a lot of effort for just a few people.

Organizer Bruce Saunders was one of the five sitting in the well-lit hallway, and I knew I was in the right place. There was a giant Monday Movie sign and everything.

I sat on the floor of the hallway behind the couches.

Wiebo’s War, if you haven’t seen it, is a fascinating tale about Wiebo Ludwig and the people of Trickle Creek in northern Alberta. And it quickly drew me in.

The community, who are referred to as Ludwigs, explain their fight against the neighbouring gas mines, which have slowly poisoned them over the past two decades.

Knowing that I was in the Eric Martin Pavilion, which traditionally cared for people with mental health issues, and knowing Saunders’ own personal history with mental health issues, I was ready for anything.

So when white-linen-suit-guy got up and walked around during the climax of the movie, I judged not. He crossed the hall, opened a door to a lecture theatre, and disappeared inside. Boy did I feel smart when, through the open door, I could see the dark theatre was full of people with the same movie on a giant screen.

Oh, that’s Movie Monday.

“We provide the TV and couches in the hallway so people can come and go,” Saunders explained to me later. “Some people don’t like to sit down too long, and we like to accommodate if we can.”

When the movie ended I entered the main theatre. It was nearly full, and almost everyone stayed put as the lights came on. Saunders took the microphone, held it to a speakerphone and phoned the director of Wiebo’s War, David York.

“Hi David.”

“Hi Bruce.”

York fielded 80 minutes worth of questions from the audience while Saunders moderated.

It was a great Q&A, full money’s worth (admission is by donation and averages $2 per head).

“Directors want to talk about their movies,” Saunders said. “But it’s common to get 10 minutes or so at a film festival.”

And anyone who stuck around on Monday learned the true brilliance of York. Which means Saunders is essentially running a year round film festival.

Saunders created the weekly viewings in the Eric Martin lecture theatre in 1993, following a stint as an in-patient after his second attempt at suicide.

He got an idea to use movies to create a positive environment for people with mental illness, at least a better option than regular TV.

He ran his first Q&A in 1993, his first year of running Movie Monday. It was for Benny and Joon, a movie that deals with schizophrenia, with director Jeremiah Chechik.

In the 1990s he also ran a Q&A from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, perhaps the most famed movie about mental health..and spoke with actor Dr. Dean Kent Brooks M.D., who played the head doctor from that movie, about the controversial therapies it covered.

Saunders is all for breaking down stigmas around mental health, but he runs all kinds of shows.

“The Canadian films in particular of all the films we run are much more creative and important than what Hollywood offers, but people just don’t know about them.”

This Monday (Aug. 27) he’s showing Love That Boy, a 2003 comedy from Halifax.

Travis Paterson is the Black Press regional sports reporter.