Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival 2015

This year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival (SMHAFF) opens on World Mental Health Day (Saturday 10 October), with events and activities taking place across Scotland from then until 31 October.

Now in its ninth year, the SMHAFF encompasses music, film, visual art, performing arts, dance, and literature. By engaging artists, connecting with communities and forming collaborations, the Festival celebrates the artistic achievements of people with experience of mental health issues, explores the relationship between creativity and the mind, and promotes positive mental health and wellbeing.

The festival’s theme this year is passion, and will explore how we learn to live with our passions and make them work positively for us, as well as the passion and dispassion associated with mental ill-health.

The Festival kicks off with Moving Minds, an all-day family event at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, celebrating diversity and wellbeing in our communities.

Throughout October, Michael John McCarthy’s Turntable will pop up in various locations across Scotland, seeking to reclaim music as a communal experience. Des and Liz Mahagow, known for running around the country with their homemade Olympic torch and Commonwealth Games People’s Baton, are hitting the road again, this time to champion positive mental health, in tribute to Mischief Las Bas co-founder Ian Smith, who died in 2014. Look out for them as they embark on their Take the Black Dog Out on a Walk Tour.

Turntable, SMHAFF 

Performing Arts Programme 

From national tours to local productions, passions are running high in this year’s performing arts programme. Highlights include In Her Shadows, a unique visual performance directed by Cora Bissett (Glasgow Girls, Roadkill and Grit), fusing aerial and physical theatre, stunning projections and an original musical score. Rapture Theatre celebrate Arthur Miller’s centenary with a new production of The Last Yankee, exploring a couple’s battle with depression and their failure to live up to the American Dream. Both productions are touring throughout Scotland.

In Her Shadows. Photo: Daniel Lacasta Fitzsimmons 

In collaboration with Luminate and A Play, A Pie and A Pint, Descent is an unflinching piece about a couple’s struggle to keep their love alive in the face of dementia, with runs at Glasgow’s Òran Mór and Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.

Cultured Mongrel Dance Theatre return with innovative shows #Trans and #TheSoloFilter, both playing in Aberdeen, while Al Seed’s Oog, an intense dance-theatre production about the trauma of conflict, is another regional highlight, this time from Forth Valley. Touring in the Highlands, Fable is a quirky production combining storytelling, spoken word and music, while performer Donna Rutherford explores ageing through soup-making and storytelling traditions with Broth in Inverclyde.

Film Programme 

This year’s film programme focuses on valiant documentaries, featuring individuals who are willing to openly explore what mental health means to them. Curated principally from submissions to our International Film Competition, this year’s programme boasts more premieres than ever before. Dead When I Got Here, set in a mental asylum run by its own patients, gets its European premiere at the Festival, while screening in the UK for the first time, we have: Dancing with Maria, an impassioned documentary about a 90-year-old Argentinian dance teacher; The Silence of the Flies, exploring a mysterious suicide epidemic in the Venezuelan Andes; and Juanicas, Karen Garcia Casanova’s impressive debut about her brother’s relapse into depression.

We are proud that half the features showcased are directed by women, a gender balance rarely found in a notoriously male-dominated industry. These include Scottish filmmaker Karen Guthrie’s exquisite autobiographical documentary The Closer We Get, which sees her return home after her mother’s devastating stroke and take one last opportunity to delve into her family’s past. Signe Baumane’s surreal animation Rocks in My Pockets and the daring Norwegian documentaries Good Girl and Ida’s Diary also show female directors at the forefront of deeply personal filmmaking. The film programme culminates with the annual International Film Competition Awards at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse and screenings of some of the winners at Glasgow School of Art.

The Closer We Get 


Literature events at this year’s Festival include Matt Haig discussing his inspirational bestselling memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, focusing on his own experiences with depression. This talk is presented in partnership with the Dundee Literary Festival, as is Heard It. Seen It. Done It., a unique cultural showcase exploring internal and external voices in art, curated and performed by voice hearers from The HaVeN. The SMHAFF Writing Awards return for another year, in an afternoon dedicated to exploring passion, mental health and the written word at St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow.

The inimitable Rally & Broad host an eclectic showcase of literature, spoken word and music, while In the Shadow of the Castle is an evening of poetry taking place in the magnificent setting of Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall. Matthew Green also discusses his new book Aftershock, which seeks to get to the heart of today’s post-conflict experience, and poet Jo McFarlane and psychiatrist Dr Allan Beveridge team up for Shrunk in the Wash / Madness in Modern Scottish Literature at Edinburgh’s Summerhall.


RM Hubbert 

2015 Scottish Album of the Year Award-winner Kathryn Joseph headlines Edinburgh Carers Council’s Music Matters concert, with support from Yusuf Azak and The Son(s). In Glasgow, Platform’s annual celebration Headspace features another SAY Award winner, singer-songwriter RM Hubbert, as well as Burkina Faso’s Baba Commandant. Folk musician Sarah Jones performs with her collection of guitars and shares stories from her life as a vicar and transwoman, while Edward Reid and the SoundSational Community Choir present workshops and a free concert on using singing to help with stress and depression.

Visual Arts 

Now in its third year, Out of Sight, Out of Mind is a series of ambitious visual arts exhibitions, taking place in Summerhall and other venues across Edinburgh. Organised by CAPS Independent Advocacy, in collaboration with a host of other local organisations, this compelling event features diverse artworks from people with lived experience of mental ill-health.

Also in Edinburgh, Postcards From… at The Gallery on the Corner is a unique installation of over 200 original postcard sized pieces, created by different artists on the theme of passion. Paying tribute to his mother’s life, Glasgow-based artist Richard Blass has created a moving series of paintings, depicting the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, while, in Perth, the WW1 centenary exhibition ‘Heroes or Rajhantle?’ commemorates the contribution made by the Gypsy/Traveller community and explores the local impact of shell shock.

Find out more and view the full programme on the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival website and get a sense of what to expect by watching the trailer for the festival:

This article was published on 28 Oct 2015