When Canadian director John Kastner first walked up to Ontario’s Brockville Mental Health Centre to begin work on his documentary Out of Mind, Out of Sight (pictured), he admits he felt “spooked.”
Patients sitting on the grass smoking cigarettes watched as Kastner approach the facility, which treats people who are found not criminally responsible for violent crimes because of mental illness. Kastner said questions started running through his head as he watched the patients watching him – what did this patient do to end up in the center? What if someone takes a run at me?
“I came with all the prejudices that everybody has,” the director tells realscreen‘s sister publication Playback.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight, which had its world premiere at Hot Docs and screens for third time on Sunday (May 4), aims to tackle those prejudices and stereotypes the public may hold about people who are found not criminally responsible for violent crimes. As Kastner and his crew started to film the project at the Brockville Mental Health Centre, he found many of the patients to be gentle people and befriended them using humor.
“Our goal, very simply, was to take people who have been demonized in the media as monsters and to try to help de-stigmatize,” Kastner says. He noted that the changes patients undergo while at these forensic psychiatric hospitals demonstrate just how well treatment can work, a reality Kastner believes is important for the public to witness.
“For a layman to watch this transformation is sheer magic,” Kastner said.
The documentary follows the stories of four patients at the Brockville Mental Health Centre and also features interviews with the nurses, psychiatrists and staff who work at the center. The documentary was shot on and off over 18 months, with center’s staff working closely with the crew to film and conduct interviews with patients. Despite initial hesitation from some patients, the crew managed to interview 46 of the 59 patients at the facility for the piece.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight is the followup to Kastner’s NCR: Not Criminally Responsible, which tells the story of Sean Clifton, an Ontario man who was found not criminally responsible after he attacked a woman in a mall. The two pieces were shot on a combined budget of CAD$1.5 million, with the CBC taking NCR and TVO commissioning Out of Mind, Out of Sight. While the project has yet to see any international sales, PBS in the U.S. has expressed interest in picking up the doc, Kastner says.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight is produced, directed and written by Kastner. Silva Basmajian serves as exec producer and producer. Deborah Parks was a producer with the project, with Nicole Rogers serving as associate producer.
The documentary is produced by J.S. Kastner Productions, in coproduction with the National Film Board of Canada, in association with TVO.