SQIFF: Sad Girl Cinema

Reviewed by: Clare Patterson

30/9/17, CCA Glasgow

Created by artist and writer Claire Biddles and writer and ‘Doll Hospital’ zine editor Bethany Lamont, ‘Sad Girl Cinema’ is a documentary that combines representations of mental illness on screen with analysis from contemporary female writers. The film is still in production – the event, examining numerous representations of mental illness on screen, is bookended by two short clips from the film itself – and even for just the first glimpse of this ongoing project, the CCA Theatre is packed, showing the ravenous appetite for this kind of representation, for perspectives on women with mental illness outside of harridan mothers and ‘tragically beautiful’ teenage girls.

Designer Maggie Webster’s pretty, hand-drawn title cards call to mind cult teenage classic Rookie Magazine, Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’, or the whimsical animations featured in numerous faux-indie films that the event later deconstructs. The simplicity of the production –  film and TV clips are overlaid with a voiceover providing analysis, cutting to the original audio when and an important or relevant line is uttered – has a woozy, dreamlike feel, sometimes punctuated by moments of incredible starkness; in ‘In Too Poor To Be One of The Girlfriends’, writer Imade Nibokun recalls her suicidal ideations over clips from sunny 2000s American sitcom ‘Girlfriends’, to jarring effect.

The analysis in the two clips we see is consistently smart and nuanced, mixing impressive honesty with intelligent readings. In ‘Too Poor to be One of the Girlfriends’, Nibokun describes the value of seeing black women – in this case, Tracee Ellis Ross as Joan – taken seriously in therapy, while also acknowledging the show’s limitations, as the lives of the wealthy women on the show – particularly their access to mental health treatment – did not chime with her own experience on and off unemployment. Lisa Ruiz’s ‘Queer in the Psych Ward’ compares the depiction of lesbian character Lana Winters in American Horror Story: Asylum with her own experience as a queer woman in psychiatric care, examining the show’s narrative of 60s repression alongside the frequent pathologising and intrusive questions about her sexuality from mental health staff.

The majority of the screening is taken up with a collection of clips selected by the filmmakers that show a variety of mental health depictions; HBO show ‘In Treatment’, an episode of ‘The Simpsons’, the video for N’SYNC’s ‘Crazy for You’ that has to be seen to be believed, a clip from the hideously corny teen film ‘It’s Kind of A Funny Story’. The panel afterward sees insightful and understanding discussion from both the filmmakers and their guests, and, as audience members and panellists alike share strikingly personal stories of their own mental illness, the mood in the room is one of incredible safety and trust. Sad Girl Cinema shows a refreshingly thoughtful, empathetic kind of documentary filmmaking. I can’t wait to see more. 

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