Films as conversation pieces

Local man aims to spark dialogue about mental illness and addiction with monthly film series

Stan Rossowski started Cinesanity, a monthly series that screens films portraying individuals living with mental illness or addictions. The screenings are free and open to the public. Chris Friesen

Cinesanity, a free monthly film series that screens films portraying individuals living with mental illness or addictions, will kick off the new year with a screening of the film Heavy.

Held on the fourth Monday of each month, Cinesanity is sponsored by the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society and Micah House, the Catholic Centre for Social Justice. It is open to the general public.

Ironically, Heavy, the fifth film in the series, was chosen because of its lighter subject matter.

“It was time for a change of pace,” Stan Rossowski, initiator and facilitator of Cinesanity said during an interview at the University of Winnipeg. He explained that the previous films shown dealt with more weighty subject matter, like schizophrenia and cocaine addiction.

Heavy depicts the life of a young man, Victor, played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, who suffers from an undefined personality disorder. Victor works as a cook in a diner owned by his mother Dolly, played by Shelley Winters. Many of the characters in the film suffer from their own tribulations, but things change when Callie, played by Liv Tyler, becomes a waitress at the diner. Her uplifting presence casts a ray of hope on the group of compromised individuals.

Other than the themes of mental illness and addictions, hope is the common thread that ties together the films shown in Cinesanity.

“Each of the films we show has a positive outcome,” Rossowski said. He hopes that by screening films with optimistic endings, people will see that people with mental illness and addictions can recover.

For a brief moment we can share in a different life.

Stan Rossowski, Cinesanity founder

Having had personal experience with depression and alcohol addiction, Rossowski decided to use his insights to inform others through the film program.

“Cinesanity is a very humble, early effort on my part to help educate people about addictions and mental illness and possibly, in time, to build a community of individuals who can bring various perspectives to the subject of mental wellness,” he said.

Film’s ability to bring people together and expose them to different perspectives on mental illness and addiction is precisely why Rossowski chose the medium for his efforts.

Bruce Saunders, founder of Movie Monday in Victoria, British Columbia, a weekly event that screens many films with themes of mental illness and addictions, also feels film is a powerful way to present alternative perspectives.

“Film, either fiction or documentary, has a great ability to draw an audience into its reality… you are immersed in the scenario, you’re living and breathing in that world,” he said by e-mail.

Each Cinesanity screening is followed by a discussion, which Rossowski said “sometimes leads to sharing personal experiences,” while encouraging networking and a sense of community among those present.

Saunders also sees great value in post-film discussion.

“When the lights come up and people are engaged in conversation about the topic, the experience is freshly and emotionally felt. It’s a tremendous moment to educate.”

Cinesanity began in September 2008 and is scheduled to continue through to June 2009. Come June, Rossowski hopes to renew the program and possibly make it a weekly event.

He encourages all who are interested in mental illness and addictions come to Cinesanity simply to learn about the varieties of human experience.

“For a brief moment we can share in a different life.”

Heavy will be shown Monday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at Micah House, 1039 Main St. Admission is free.

Published in Volume 63, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 22, 2009)

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