________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 2 . . . . September 14, 2007


The Interventionists: Chronicles of a Mental Health Crisis Team.

Katerina Cizek (Writer & Director). Gerry Flahive (Producer). Silva Basmajian (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2006.
31 min., 23 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9106 436.

Subject Headings:
Mentally ill-Ontario-Toronto.
People with mental disabilities-Services for-Ontario-Toronto.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Monika Grossenbacher.

* /4

On the evening of February 20th, 1997, Edmund Yu assaulted a woman at a Toronto bus stop. Police officers responding to the call watched Yu board a bus. They followed him and, once inside, Yu raised a weapon against them. The weapon in question was a steel hammer, and Yu was shot three times by the officer who followed him, dying at the scene shortly after. Edmund Yu was a homeless paranoid schizophrenic. 

     At the Coroners Inquest following Yu's death, the Toronto Police were cleared of all wrongdoing yet a jury's recommendation suggests that the presence of a mental health professional might have led to a different outcome. Out of this inquest, the subject of the film is born: the MCIT, or Mobile Crisis Intervention Team. This team is Canada's first primary response team to partner a hospital with a police division, featuring a nurse from St. Michael's Hospital working together with an officer from one of two inner-city police divisions. 

     The Interventionists chronicles shifts shared by Ellen, a psychiatric nurse, and Brandon, a police officer. Together, Ellen and Brandon respond to 911 calls involving EDPs (Emotionally Disturbed Persons). The EDPs they encounter are as diverse as Toronto itself, and they include, among others, a man high on crack smashing car windows, a hotel guest threatening suicide, a schizophrenic who calls police insisting that his apartment has been bugged by a prostitution ring and a 14 year-old girl who writes a suicide note.

     The film emphasizes the value of their work. It reminds us that the service provided by the MCIT succeeds in avoiding unnecessary arrests and hospital stays, instead referring patients to services within their community. However, viewers are hard pressed to see it for himself. We see only brief glimpses of the EDPs and their lives. No one explains how they came to this point, and no follow-ups let us know what happens to them after Ellen and Brandon's initial intervention. Nor is there much insight offered from either Ellen or Brandon; neither of whom appears to share a particular sense of camaraderie for the other. After one of their interventions, an EDP, who is talked out of committing suicide, says what he could really use now is a hug, but, in one of the films' most awkwardly detached moments, is quickly informed about Ellen's "no hug policy".

     The identities of the EDPs in the film are kept anonymous. In some cases, this is done by not showing them at all and in others by blanking out their faces. To compensate, there are endless shots of walls, ceilings, pavement and shoes. Rather than lending the film a sense of intimacy, it's just plain distracting. For further forced dramatic effect, the screen frequently fades to black.

     In addition to the film, the DVD offers a separate section whereby each EDP case is presented with a question to stimulate discussion. However, we learn so little about the various EDPs in the film, that meaningful discussion related to them might raise more questions than answers.

Not recommended.

Monika Grossenbacher, a Language and Literature major from the University of Toronto, lives and works in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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