Forget the Oscars. During NAMI's annual convention in Cincinnati, the movie "A Beautiful Mind" will receive perhaps the highest honor of all: a special award from people who themselves have struggled with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, for the year's "Greatest Contribution to Public Understanding of Mental Illness."
Akiva Goldsman, who won an Oscar for his screenplay based on the life of Nobel Prize winning mathematician and NAMI member John Nash, Jr., will accept the award at NAMI's convention banquet on Saturday, June 29, on behalf of himself and other principals behind the movie: producer Brian Grazer, director Ron Howard, actors Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly; author Sylvia Nasar, who wrote the original biography A Beautiful Mind; and of course, John and Alicia Nash. The movie is about romance, courage, tragedy and triumph-reflecting authentic truths about the experiences of many NAMI families, defying stereotypes and stigma. The banquet will include scenes from the movie, as well as other multimedia presentations.
NAMI's convention coincides with the release of A Beautiful Mind for sale or rent in video and DVD, including a documentary about the making of the movie. The DVD is six-hours long with additional material, including scenes that did not make it into the final movie. In announcing NAMI's media awards for 2002, executive director Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D., declared "We hope the release of A Beautiful Mind on video will lead to even greater discussion about mental illnesses among families, friends, and neighbors. We also hope that educational institutions and courses will use them for more formal discussion groups."
In a recent interview, NAMI asked director Ron Howard about his decision to make a movie about schizophrenia and whether he ever anticipated the impact that movie has had on public education:
"I knew we had a powerful script," Howard said. "It was our challenge to abbreviate John Nash's life and have the audience experience a man's personal journal, through devastation, hope and recovery. We were hopeful that this movie was an authentic portrayal of the vagaries of the mind. Clearly, from the support given by notable organizations such as NAMI, we were successful in our mission."
During the Oscar competition, many NAMI members throughout the country wrote letters of praise or newspaper articles about the movie-some of which ultimately found their way into Universal Studio's promotional packets. Grassroots support for the movie, beyond the price of admission, was perhaps unprecedented. "The support we received from NAMI helped to endorse the authenticity of the film and underscored the accuracy of alternative realties and how they affect the mind," Howard acknowledged.
"The undertaking of this entire project was a very emotional and personal journey for me," Howard said. "We treated every scene with respect and tried to present a complex lifetime into a few hours."
For NAMI, the movie also was emotional and personal. We also believe Howard succeeded, beyond his wildest dreams. "This is likely to be the movie for which Ron Howard always will be remembered," Birkel said. "It is a breakthrough in how Hollywood portrays mental illness. It has made history. It is worth viewing and talking about again and again and again."