Artists' Television Access

Head Cold

Friday, March 11, 2011, 8:00 pm, $6-$10

Psychosis – an illness that is apparently incurable, a diagnosis that literally turns the lives of those involved upside-down. Nothing is the same as it once was, and the sojourns in psychiatric wards are often followed by a life-long dependence on medications that have severe side-effects. Talking about the illness is a taboo—for who wants to voluntarily declare themselves as a lunatic? For the first time ever, the afflicted author and director Gamma Bak dares to make an autobiographical film dealing with the various stages of her illness. The result is a highly intimate and fascinating self-portrait that offers not only an introduction to the complex issue but also provides a direct insight to both the struggles involved with the diagnosis of psychosis and the associated stigmatization. Directed by Gamma Bak (in person), 92 min, 2010.

Director’s Comment

At the age of 18, I went to film school and became a filmmaker.

At 30, I had a nervous breakdown, a psychosis. And then again, and again. I became chronically ill.

After seven years with the illness I began to film myself and also asked my family and friends for video letters. Eight years later, the film is finished: the long-term observation accompanied my journey back to a “normal” life.

Head Cold is an experimental long-term observation. By exposing myself to the film as a process, I allow a direct insight into the struggles that I have experienced due to the diagnoses and resultant stigmatization. The subjective approach to the topic seems necessary to me, even if it was initially very difficult for me to “out” myself. The position that I take is that of both how I live with and how I have adjusted to the illness.

Head Cold is an autobiographical work that is emerges in several stages. The form and content of the experiment arises from my method of working, which is based upon expansive collecting and careful probing. The actual work on the project began in the summer of 2001 with an initial project outline; the MiniDV archive of materials consisting of the self-interviews, the conversations held with me, and the video letters from my family and friends began as of spring 2002. Head Cold is biographical narrative, and my story—as both an incentive and an example in one—offers an introduction to the complex topic.

People with the illness are branded and tossed aside. They usually live a highly marginalized life on early retirement pensions or social benefits, and only in the rarest of cases can they pursue regular employment. Life is torn apart by frequent periods of hospitalization and convalescence. The crises are often followed by depressions that are almost as bad as the crises themselves because they last even longer. The self-esteem is battered and the eternal conflicts with the required medications and the given side-effects—which substantially reduce the quality of life—are grueling.

When I look at the self-interviews, I discover something remarkable: The persistent attempt, over years, to truly convey what it means to endure and live this difficult illness. That which I demanded from myself was worth it. It is an unsparing gaze lacking all voyeurism. I chose the interview format to enable the formation of a highly impressive, personal picture through these narratives. The story is completed by that which is not said and the commentary from external sources such as the video letters.

For the specific target groups—the next of kin, the afflicted, therapists and doctors—this film is of profound importance and should lead to a highly committed and controversial discussion regarding my position as a “compliant”[1] patient. But the film goes beyond the process of dealing with a psychotic disorder from a personal point of view. It also shows the life—the path of life—of a freelance artist in midlife, full of doubt about why everything came to be as it did.

The central issues of the film revolve around the questions of taking responsibility of one’s own life, of one’s illness, and of solely taking charge in general. It is always about the great isolation in which I find myself, and the desire to share the responsibility. These levels of the film make it both universal and enthralling. The film poses questions asked by many women my age, including those that do not have to struggle with the stigma of being psychologically ill.

Gamma Bak