June 25, 2012


I love movies. It’s an addiction I acquired in the 1970s as a high school student in Bolivia. A political crisis closed schools for six weeks. Friends and I would go to double features, two or three times a week, to waste an afternoon (tickets cost about 40 cents). Those were the days long before video games and Vudu downloads.

That why I’m proud to be introducing and moderating discussions about two films at NAMI’s National Convention in Seattle, June 27-30.

The films are Pensar Eterno (Eternal Thought) and Kings Park: Stories from, an American Mental Institution. For people who can’t attend the convention, both can be previewed online. Kings Park is also being screened on July 23 at the National Association of Social Workers Conference in Washington, D.C. It is becoming a vehicle for broad public education.

Pensar Eterno (in Spanish with English subtitles) is a short film—about 15 minutes—based on the story of Juan Gabriel Velez Court , growing up in Puerto Rico, and his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For NAMI, it also is a milestone—the first time that a Spanish-language film has been featured as a marquee event.

Kings Park is a powerful film. In 1967 at age 17, filmmaker, Lucy Winer was committed to Kings Park State Hospital in New York, after several suicide attempts. Established in 1885 and closed in 1996, the hospital had 9,000 patients at its peak—basically warehoused without humane treatment. Thirty years later, Lucy returned to the abandoned facility that had held her captive. Interviews in with other former patients, families and former hospital staff reveal both the painful legacy of state hospital systems from that era and the crisis that has resulted from deinstitutionalization. Instead of being warehoused, too many people with severe mental illness are living on the streets or without adequate support.

For me, there are three intriguing moments in Kings Park. One former hospital attendant fondly recalled that the hospital as a “paradise” because many of the staff lived in housing on its sprawling grounds, met their spouses there and raised their families in the shadow of its massive buildings. The private psychiatrist who committed Lucy acknowledged that Kings Park was a terrible solution, but there were few options at the time. The reason for Lucy’s committal was an imperative: she needed to be somewhere where she could be watched continuously, to keep her from killing herself. At the end of the film, Lucy seeks to reconcile conflicting emotions. She acknowledges that there were people at Kings Park who did help her, enabling her to find a path toward recovery.

Looking to the future as well as the past, Kings Park provides astute historical perspective. Fifty years from now, will we condemn the present, while measuring progress with the same objectivity? I hope so.

Editor’s note: OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger's Movie in which filmmaker Bud Clayman chronicles the illness that interrupted his career and the ups and downs of his path to recovery also be screened at NAMI’s convention. Unfortunately, this week’s blogger hasn’t seen it. Yet. (NAMI members can read a review of OC87 that appeared in last winter’s edition of the Advocate.)

Stay connected with NAMI's National Convention on Twitter with #NAMI2012.

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