________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 9 . . . . January 5, 2001

First Break.

Adrienne Amato and Derek Rogers (Directors). Silva Basmajian (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1997.
50 min., 55 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9197 116.

Subject Heading:
Mentally ill-Video recording.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Katie Cook.

**** /4


"For the majority of people diagnosed with a mental illness, their first episode occurs in their late teens or early twenties. It comes at a time when their choices and opportunities in life should be increasing. Instead, the course of their lives is suddenly changed."
So begins this excellent video about mental illness. It follows the lives of three young adults: Simon has schizophrenia; Adrienne suffers from bipolar (manic depressive) disorder; and Shely suffered one brief psychotic episode. The three sufferers are intelligent, personable, likable, clean, and, as Adrienne says, normal-looking. These are not old men who mumble on the street or ladies pushing shopping carts. These people come from regular Canadian homes (though both Simon's grandmother and Shely's mother also suffered from mental illness) and look like anyone you'd see on the street. This is the strength of this video. We do not expect mental illness to touch us. This invisible disease happens to other people. These three very articulate young people bring a face to mental illness. The addition of their parents and friends, who are interviewed as well, makes this disease less mysterious.

      The video follows all three of these people through their regular activities and their regular relationships. The "interview" technique is rarely used. Instead, Simon, Adrienne, and Shely are allowed to say what they wish and show us how they feel. This is another strength of the video. Statistics are brought out naturally and fit into the situations. Simon mentions that he is frightened by the fact that 1 in 10 schizophrenics commits suicide. His mother is also frightened by this statistic, especially since her own mother, also a sufferer of schizophrenia, did take her own life.

      Another strength of the piece is that the characters are natural. Their discussions are not scripted, natural pauses occur, and the viewer can see that these are real people with real problems, not scripted actors. Thus, we emphasize with their difficulties.

      The camera work is unobtrusive. Scenes flow from one to the other without any discernible break, and, even though three separate people with three separate stories are followed at the same time, there is no confusion for the viewer. Their stories all move seamlessly into each other.

      This video would be an excellent addition to any classroom where health concerns are studied, but all students can benefit from the way this video breaks the stigmas of mental illness.

Highly Recommended.

Katie Cook is a social studies teacher and a teacher-librarian at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School in Steinbach, MB.

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

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ISSN 1201-9364