There’s many film festivals taking place online and one currently running right now is the Au Contraire Film Festival usually situated in Montreal. But what is ACFF? Well, it’s Montreal’s only film festival that talks about mental health and provides awareness regarding such a matter, because it needs to be made more apparent so people will understand it. We bring it up a lot, especially in the film industry, where it tends to strive. Currently it’s online with a free platform (unlike some festivals I know) and showing over 20 films currently. To cover this subject more and learn about the festival, I spoke to Cybil Geracimo who filled me in on this festival.
HNMAG: How did you get into this position?
Cybil: I started reviewing films as a juror for the ACFF (Au Contraire Film Festival) two years ago. Philip Silverberg (the cofounder of the festival) and Marcel Pinchevsky (the executive director of the festival) saw my reviews as insightful and helpful in the film selection process. Philip then offered me further responsibilities as a member of the team. Being this year’s ACFF programming director and curator is the culmination of that work and trust.
HNMAG: What are the duties as a curator?
Cybil: I vet all films that Philip sends me to review. My reviews influence which films will be selected and screened at the ACFF. I tend to be sensitive to the quality of the script and the artistry of the film – the lyricism of word and image. I’m also very sensitive to the way in which the mental health issue in a given film is being portrayed. There’s a delicate dance at play between commercial entertainment and art…
HNMAG: What are some of the hardships of the job?
Cybil: Because the films deal exclusively with mental health and addiction issues, many of the films have the ability to communicate to the audience very viscerally and vividly the raw pain of the protagonist. But I believe herein lies the power of the medium of film and of art in general. In the words of Cesar A. Cruz, I believe that “art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”. Therein lies the catalyst for discussion, debate and potential change, especially as it applies, in this case, to removing the stigma of mental illness. That being said, the festival does promote a hopeful message, and many of the films strike a delicate and brilliant balance between oppressive pain and healing humour.
HNMAG: Do you like to take input from attendees?
Cybil: I personally have not yet had the experience of an attendee giving me input as this is my first year as the ACFF programming director and curator, and the pandemic has interfered with the usual face-to-face interactions that inspire dialogue and the free exchange of ideas and input. Such an exchange usually took place in the traditional venue for the festival – the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Cinéma du Musée. But I’d be more than happy to take input from attendees should the occasion present itself. I believe there’s always room for growth and evolution, and since the festival is an artistic venture with a mission, it should “breathe”, be flexible and organic, reflecting the artistic and mental health sensibilities and issues of the times and community, here and across the globe.
HNMAG: Aside from online screeners, how else does this festival usually differ from the traditional style of the last years?
Cybil: The ACFF launched its first Drive-In event on August 19, 2020 in response to the pandemic. Traditionally, the ACFF follows all theatre screenings with a panel discussion featuring, if possible, the filmmaker and/or the star of the film. The audience can then participate in a Q & A session. But because of the new format of online screening necessitated by the pandemic, the panel discussions and Q & A’s will not be feasible this year.
HNMAG: Given how the films are about mental health, how do you check to make sure they’re viewable?
Cybil: I have a personal stake in the vetting process – I’m a person who has suffered from paralyzing bouts of depression since the age of 15. It is very important to me that the films do justice to mental health awareness and initiatives as opposed to sensationalizing mental illness in an effort to promote ticket sales. The films should not further add to the misunderstanding and stigma of mental illness by either romanticizing the illness or glorifying the shock value of it. Also, when reviewing a film, I want to make sure that the mental health issue is portrayed accurately and not naively or ignorantly so as not to further offend and alienate those suffering from mental illness and those who care for them. It’s very important that the film should ring true by resonating on some level with all members of the audience and offer hope.
HNMAG: Do you feel it has helped people all these years it’s been running?
Cybil: I personally can say that I wish there had been a film festival like the ACFF in my youth. I found a common voice and language in many of the films I viewed. I finally could relate to so many of the protagonists’ gargantuan struggles with the Goliath of their illness. Because these films resonated so powerfully with me, I felt less alone in my personal battles. And this was a very comforting, healing and empowering feeling. Also, on a community outreach level, the beneficiary of the proceeds of this festival annually funds part of the operations of Donald Berman UP House, a community centre for those living with persistent mental illness. Their mission is “rebuilding confidence, purpose, and a sense of community for individuals living with mental illness”. Their programs follow the standards of Clubhouse International.
HNMAG: What do you hope this year’s festival will do in terms of educating?
Cybil: Many of this year’s films treat varied mental health themes: homelessness, addiction, OCD, suicidal ideation and depression, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and burnout. I believe that all attendees will be able to relate to the films on some level and find some common ground there. This in turn helps to destigmatize mental illness. By featuring films that show what it’s like to struggle with serious episodes of mental illness, such as a psychosis or a suicidal depression, the audience will get a better understanding of the illness and, by extension, a better understanding of the one suffering from it. This again helps to reduce the stigma and some fears born out of the unknown. The attendees will get a chance to experience the incredible resilience of those featured in the films as well as the incredible healing power of love, family and community and the sublimating power of art! And they will be thoroughly entertained!
With all the details I learned, I’m glad I was made aware of the ACFF and hope to see it making more progress for the years to come.
Take a look at it while you can. You’ll see so many cool films.