As a subject, madness has been a tantalizing draw for filmmakers going back to Robert Weine’s 1920 expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But it reached a kind of pinnacle in the 1960s and ’70s, when many of the great directors broached the topic, says Toronto film critic Geoff Pevere.
"So many of the people that we once referred to as the greatest directors, whether it’s Bergman, or Bunuel or Antonioni, Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, what all of these filmmakers explored through varying extents were the subjective experience of insanity," Pevere says.
"The connection between film and mental illness always made sense for me."
That explains how Pevere, 59, happened to become the programmer for the Toronto-based Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival three years ago from departing program director Lisa Brown.
"Back when it started in ’92, nobody was doing it and the concept behind it was that every film should be a prelude to a discussion," Pevere says on the phone from Toronto.
"We wanted to share the chance to use these films as an opportunity for discussion."
In its 25th year, the festival hits the road for a cross-country tour that touches down in Winnipeg this weekend at Cinematheque, a good fit for Pevere, a Toronto critic who was an early champion of the Winnipeg Film Group back in the late 1980s.
Pevere, who believes a film can be an opportunity for people to speak out about things, will be in attendance to screen three features and three short films and lead a discussion to follow.
"I never though that I would program a film festival, but this is one that feels like a good fit for me," he says, adding that the marriage of madness and cinema has tended to be a fruitful union.
"It first hit home that this could be a productive and creative way to deal with the subject matter when I first saw (Martin Scorsese’s) Taxi Driver," he says.
"I realized that I was made to be both hypnotized by what I was looking at and made uncomfortable by it," he recalls. "And as the film played on, it’s constantly playing with how reliable (Robert De Niro’s troubled protagonist Travis Bickle) is, when we begin to realize Travis is capable of anything. By the time we realize that, the movie has arranged itself inside his head and you can’t get out of it."
That was one of the moments when Pevere really said: "Wow."
"Going back to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, Antonioni’s Red Desert, it’s amazing how many of the art films in that era deal with that subject matter, and how much of this style is engaged in the process of trying to replicate the experience of the disordered mind."
Pevere adds that contemporary films on the subject offer a wide range of topics within the larger subject.
"Sometimes they’re about the legal ramifications, or exposés about how different cultures around the world treat people in institutions. Sometimes it’s in the form of documentary, sometimes feature, sometimes animation, sometimes experimental.
"We are looking at a very, very rich vein of film activity around the world," Pevere says.
"To me it makes complete sense. But then, I probably have my own issues."