Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival launches tenth year with series of special announcements

28 January 2016
  • New Alan Bissett play about the life of Syd Barrett, commissioned by the Festival, to premiere in October
  • Partnership with National Theatre of Scotland on new project, featuring a double bill of new  shows, about transgender lives
  • The Dust of Everyday Life, a groundbreaking conference on the arts and mental health, to return in April
  • Emma Jayne Park named associate artist for the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival
  • International Film Competition will open next week with the establishment of new Best Dramatic Feature award
  • Festival to run from 10-31 October with the theme ‘Time’

The Mental Health Foundation is to celebrate the tenth year of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival (SMHAFF) with a year-round programme of events supported by Creative Scotland and See Me Scotland, it was announced today.

Launched in 2007, the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival (SMHAFF) has grown in to one of the largest Festivals of its kind in the world, with over 300 events and 25,000 attendees across Scotland each October. Its innovative approach, combining high quality artistic events with community-led programming and a social justice agenda, has been imitated internationally. The Mental Health Foundation has since expanded its arts activity with a year round programme, supported by See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health stigma and open funding from Creative Scotland.

This year’s festival, led by the Mental Health Foundation with support from partner organisations, will open on World Mental Health Day on 10 October, and run until 31 October. The theme – decided each year by the festival’s regional coordinators, working alongside the central programming team – will be ‘Time’.

The full programme for this year’s Festival will be announced at the beginning of September. Meanwhile, SMHAFF is beginning its 10th year celebrations with a series of special announcements…

One thinks of it all as a dream – a new play about Syd Barrett

This year’s SMHAFF will include the premiere of One Thinks of it All as a Dream, a new play by leading Scottish writer Alan Bissett, the novelist behind Boy Racers, Death of a Ladies’ Man and Pack Men, and the playwright behind The Moira Monologues and Ban this Filth. Commissioned by the Festival, One Thinks of it All as a Dream tells the story of Syd Barrett, the leader of Pink Floyd during their first psychedelic incarnation in the 1960s. Barrett was ejected from the band after a mental breakdown, attributed variously to schizophrenia, LSD, the pressures of fame and artistic temperament; he shunned the spotlight for the rest of his life.

One Thinks of it All as a Dream will premiere at Glasgow’s Oran Mor in October, as a co-production with A Play, A Pie and a Pint, before touring to the Traverse in Edinburgh and the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen. 2016 is the 70th anniversary of Barrett’s birth, as well as the tenth anniversary of his death.

Alan Bissett said:

“Syd Barrett is unique in rock n roll history, and certainly haunted Pink Floyd's music after he left. There's no figure quite like him - which is itself attractive to a dramatist - but I also wanted to explore his multi-faceted character. He was by turns charismatic, selfish, principled and vulnerable. The legend of 'Mad Syd' has been enshrined in rock lore, but I wanted to get past the acid-casualty cliches to try and find the man beneath, in all his complexity. I took the decision to go backwards and forwards in time, through all the periods of Barrett's life, to try and gain some understanding of the entwined roots of creativity and mental illness, as well as the various impulses which might have driven him to reject the modern world.”

Eve/Adam – a partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland

This year’s SMHAFF programme will also include Eve/Adam, a double bill of new shows telling stories of transgender lives, presented by the National Theatre of Scotland and premiering in Glasgow and Edinburgh in October.

Eve is a profound reflection on one trans woman's life, from an oppressive 1950s boyhood to the present day. It is created by groundbreaking writer and performer Jo Clifford and award-winning theatre-maker Chris Goode (Men in the Cities and Sisters). Jo was the first openly transgendered woman playwright to have a play produced on London’s West End stage.

Adam is directed by award-winning theatre director Cora Bissett (co-creator of Glasgow Girls, Rites and Roadkill) with a score composed by Jocelyn Pook (Stage Works British Composer Award winner in 2012 for her soundtrack to DESH) and written by playwright and dramaturg Frances Poet. The production delves into the true story of a young trans man – born into a girl’s body in Egypt - and his journey to reconciliation, with himself, those closest to him, and the world as he knows it. 

Featuring a score sung by a virtual choir of trans and non-binary individuals from across the world, Adam is both a bold exploration of the experience of a young transgender person and an ambitious experiment with theatrical form, blending storytelling, classical composition and mass digital elements from participants from around the globe. The National Theatre of Scotland is inviting trans and non-binary individuals to take part in the production and create a global digital community choir – The Adam World Choir - which will bring together voices from the online trans community to be an integral part of Adam. All singers are welcome to join, whatever their level of experience.  The deadline is 21 March 2016. For any questions regarding participation in The Adam World Choir, and for details on how to join, please contact the Choir Project Manager, Leonie Gasson - leonie.gasson@nationaltheatrescotland.com

The Mental Health Foundation, which leads on programming SMHAFF, is partnering on the project and will work with National Theatre of Scotland throughout the year to highlight transgender stories and issues.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts lead for the Mental Health Foundation, said:

“The negative impact of stigma and prejudice on the mental health of transgender people is well documented, so we’re delighted to support a project which is about telling stories of transgender lives in a positive and empowering way. We will be working with the National Theatre of Scotland throughout this year to find ways of telling even more of these stories – and to highlight issues around community, representation, human rights and mental health.”

The Dust of Everyday Life – a symposium on arts and mental health

Other tenth year highlights include a second outing for The Dust of Everyday Life, the Mental Health Foundation’s acclaimed 2015 symposium that brought together artists, arts programmers, mental health service users and people from across the health sector to share ideas – as well as helping to shape future editions of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Tickets for Dust 2015 were all claimed within 24 hours of the event being announced, and are expected to be snapped up equally quickly when the 2016 programme is announced in a few weeks’ time.

International film competition to open and new film award announced

SMHAFF's International Film Competition, which now provides most of the festival's screen programming, is to establish a Best Dramatic Feature award from its outset for the first time.

Opening next week on the 1st February, the competition has traditionally seen documentaries of all lengths and short dramas well represented. Recent exponential growth in the number of submissions, along with proactive searching for the best mental health films available globally, makes it inevitable that an impressive feature drama winner will be found.

Other film highlights for 2016 include a second year of partnership with XpoNorth, Scotland's leading creative industries festival; continued work in establishing the Social Action Film Exhibitors Network; organisational involvement in the Radical Film Network's international gathering to be held in Glasgow; and providing assistance with mental health programming for festivals near and far (2015 saw SMHAFF engaged with events in England, Ireland, Spain, Turkey and India). In development throughout the year will be a feature film exploring the history of mental health through archive footage and specially-composed music.

Richard Warden, film curator for SMHAFF, said:

“As one of the world's largest social justice events, it's only natural that SMHAFF would seek to encourage positive change locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. The festival's tenth year sees it engaging with more and wider mental health film activity than ever before. Partnerships, programming and production combine to make it a very exciting time."

Emma Jayne Park named as SMHAFF associate artist

As part of its tenth year celebrations, SMHAFF today names Emma Jayne Park as the festival’s first associate artist. Emma Jayne has been a strong advocate for the festival and the development of its dance programme since programming her work Balance in 2009, in association with Bipolar Scotland, and her new work for young audiences, Experts In Short Trousers, will form part of the festival’s tenth year-round programme.  Experts In Short Trousers is an interactive and energetic dance performance with live music that sees a group of crash-landed aliens seek the expertise of the young audience and their families to help them adapt to earth and get on their way. It will tour Scotland in Spring and Autumn supported by Creative Scotland. Find out more at www.culturedmongreldance.com

Gail Aldam, manager of SMHAFF, said:

“Since its launch in 2007, the Festival has provided artists and communities with a platform to raise awareness and challenge negative perceptions of mental health in a creative way, growing to become one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world.  This year, we are delighted to bring together our network of over 300 organisations and individuals across Scotland, both new and old, to explore the theme of Time, looking at the history of SMHAFF and its people and stories, and moving forward to continue to instigate a change in attitudes to mental health.”

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts lead for the Mental Health Foundation, said:

“With the help of new funding from Creative Scotland, we have been working very hard on initiating, developing, supporting or partnering on dozens of exciting new artistic projects around mental health, and we expect to make many more announcements throughout SMHAFF’s tenth birthday year as all of these come to fruition.”

For further information, or to request interviews with festival participants, call Gail Aldam on 07912 977658 or Andrew Eaton-Lewis on 07475 210703