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Grandin's free flicks aim to open minds about mental illness

Roanoke Times - 10/10/2017

Surely, you've heard the old expression, "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

Whether that's true, there are free movies. They're each Tuesday night this month at the Grandin Theatre. And you might even learn something about psychiatric illnesses that remain largely under the radar in this and many other communities.

Tonight's viewing is "Silver Linings Playbook," the 2012 dramedy about a man with bipolar disorder who moves back in with his parents after a long stay in a psychiatric hospital. It was nominated for eight Oscars, took one and grossed $236 million. Among its stars are Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Tucker.

The no-cost screenings start at 7:15 p.m. and are open to the public. Each one is about a different type of psychiatric illness.

The Tuesday night series is known as MindMatters, and 2017 marks its 13th year at the Grandin. It's organized by Mental Health America of Roanoke Valley, the local chapter of a nationwide nonprofit group that bills itself as "dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans."

Each screening will be followed by a community discussion about symptoms and the challenges families face when a loved one suffers from mental illness and recovery. Those are issues that touch countless lives, including my own family. And they can be wrenching and isolating.

Mental Health America is one of roughly a dozen community organizations or institutions that in the past year have used the nonprofit theater for awareness programs, said Ian Fortier, executive director of the Grandin Theatre Foundation, the nonprofit group that owns and operates the Art Deco-style theater.

Others have included the multicultural group Local Colors, Hollins University, Roanoke College, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Western Virginia and the literacy group Roanoke Valley Reads.

"In addition to being a first-run multiplex, it's part of our goal of being a cultural community center that we work with local organizations that choose to use the cinematic arts for mission-based programs," Fortier told me. "We benefit from the traffic and from allowing the community more diverse reasons to attend the facility."

Mental health is a diverse issue in terms of the breadth of maladies it encompasses, the age ranges it affects and the strata of society it reaches.

It is "very, very difficult to wrap our heads around," said Ashley Reynolds Marshall, executive director of Mental Health America's local chapter. With other illnesses, "when an individual gets sick you might bake the person a casserole." But when it's a mental illness, she said, friends and relatives might feel less capable, even lost.

The series "allows us to use a medium of art that has historically brought people together in a comfortable space where people can learn a little more about mental illness, learn a little more about recovery."

This year's series launched last Tuesday with a viewing of "The Skeleton Twins," a 2014 indie comedy-drama about a brother and sister who are estranged emotionally and geographically. They live apart on the West and East coasts, but retain an eerie connection and are reunited when both attempt suicide at about the same time.

"We had about 50 people for "The Skeleton Twins," Reynolds Marshall said. Viewers ranged from their early 20s to senior citizens.

The movie played in the main theater - the one with old-timey gargoyles high on the walls - and afterward there was a 15- to 20-minute discussion led by Lynn McDowell, director of prevention services and Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare. Alongside her was a peer counselor.

The peer at last week's session was my adult daughter Erin, who some years ago was hospitalized for suicidal ideation. She now works in Carilion Clinic'sCommunity Health and Outreach division.

"The peers can describe, how does being suicidal really feel?" Reynolds Marshall said. "They can talk about what that crisis feels like from the inside, which is different from the traditional clinical perspective."

Tonight's theme is bipolar disorder. On Oct. 17, the theater will show "Still Alice," a 2014 drama starring Juliette Moore, Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart. It's about a college professor about to turn 50 who's diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease.

On Oct. 24, the Grandin will screen "Neal Brennan 3 MICS," a stand-up comedy film in which the comedian jumps between three microphones. One's for single-line zingers and a second is for polished, traditional stand-up comedy fare. Brennan uses the third mic for soul-baring confessions about his struggles with depression.

Rounding out the month on Halloween night, MindMatters presents "The Shining," the famous 1980 Stanley Kubrick horror flick. It stars Jack Nicholson and appears on many critics' short lists of the scariest movies ever made.

That one was chosen by one of Mental Health America's clients, Reynolds Marshall said.

"It's Halloween, so I wanted to show something a little scary," she told me. The discussion afterward will be led by Dr. Brooke Burns, a local psychiatrist and film buff. It'll focus on "the stereotypical depictions of mental health in film," Reynolds Marshall said.

There are a lot of those out there, often inaccurate and frequently stigmatizing. The facts are mental illness is treatable, recovery's achievable and there are lots of successes on that front.

Come and see for yourself. For the cost of a glass of water from your kitchen tap, you'll get a good movie and learn about some of those real-life success stories.

MindMatters Series

Free movies at The Grandin Theatre, every Tuesday Night this month! One's a classic horror, another's a more recent blockbuster dramedy. All of them are touch on mental illness, which affects our community in a variety of ways.

? Where: The Grandin Theatre, 1319 Grandin Road Southwest

? When: 7:15 p.m. each Tuesday this month

? Schedule: Tonight, "Silver Linings Playbook" (bipolar disorder); Oct. 17, "Still Alice;" (Alzheimer's disease); Oct. 24, "Neal Brennan 3 MICS" (depression); Oct. 31, "The Shining" (homicidal mania and stereotypical depictions of mental illness in cinema).

? Cost: Free

? Following each screening, a short discussion will be led by a mental health professional, usually with a peer recovery specialist who's experienced the illness portrayed in the film.


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