The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities
Florentine Films/Hott Productions
announce the release of the new documentary film
MY BROTHER, MADNESS AND SURVIVAL
Based on the book by Jay Neugeboren
for the Humanities
Florentine Films/Hott Productions,
Foundation for the Humanities and Florentine Films/Hott Productions
have just released IMAGINING ROBERT: MY BROTHER, MADNESS AND SURVIVAL,
a one-hour film by Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey and based on the book
of the same name by Jay Neugeboren. Hott and Garey, producers of many
films for national PBS broadcast, are two-time Academy Award nominees
and Emmy and Peabody Award winners.
is the centerpiece of a year-long series of screenings and discussions
sponsored by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and the
Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts, a program
of the Ford Foundation.
have heard parts of this story for a long time. says Larry Hott,
producer and director. Jay is and a friend and neighbor, and
occasionally he would tell me about his brother Robert and how much
time and energy he had to devote to him. When the book came out I heard
Jay give a reading and saw the impact the story had on the audience.
I was convinced that this would be wonderful material for a film.
The book, which received glowing reviews from the New York Times and
The Boston Globe, struck a nerve with hundreds of thousands of Americans
for many reasons, including the fact that, according to the National
Institute of Mental Health, at least 17 million Americans are affected,
in their nuclear families alone, by long-term severe mental illnesses.
who is now sixty years old, five years younger than Jay, experienced
his first episode of mental illness during his freshman year at the
City College of New York -- since then he has been hospitalized and
re-hospitalized for mental illness (schizophrenia, manic-depression)
more than fifty times. For thirty-eight years he has lived within the
mental health system, his treatment and prognosis changing with each
new doctor and each new "cure." He has been in state hospitals,
city hospitals, halfway houses, group homes, jail cells, elite treatment
centers, forensic hospitals, and, for brief periods, in his own apartments.
He has been treated with gas inhalation, insulin coma therapy, four-point
restraints, and virtually the entire armamentaria of neuroleptic and
psychotropic drugs. Through the years he's also participated in group
therapy, family therapy, multifamily group therapy, psychoanalytically-oriented
psychotherapy, art therapy, behavioral therapy, vocational rehabilitation
therapy, and milieu therapy. Most often, though, he has had an abundance
of drugs and a sad lack of care.
refers to his brother as a walking archaeological dig of mental health
treatment in the twentieth century. The very history of the ways
in which our mental health system has dealt with the mentally ill has
been passing through my brothers mind and body, he says.
first became ill in 1962, Robert's parents took charge of his care,
but a decade later, they retired to Florida, and left Robert, an adult,
in New York. Jay took over 25 years ago, and since that time has been
Robert's primary caretaker. Their father died in Florida in 1976, so
that Jay is now also responsible for his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's
Disease, and who spends her days in a nursing home in West Palm Beach.
She no longer recognizes Jay when he visits. One of the more poignant,
and controversial scenes in the film, is when Jay, interviewed beside
his mother in her nursing home bed, tells the story of how he reacted
when his parents told him they were leaving Robert in his care.
had several setbacks when they started searching for underwriting support.
Ironically, the delays ended up working in their favor. Because
we couldnt get funding at first two positive things happened,
recalls Hott. We werent able to really start filming until
Robert was moved from a locked ward to Project Renewal, a very good
halfway house in New York City. So we were able to follow his progress
over the course of two years while he adapted to life outside an institution
for the first time in many years. Also, I am the cinematographer for
the film, something I dont usually do. The advantage is that there
is no one interposed between the subject and me. When Im taping
Jay and Robert they relate directly to me without anyone else being
involved. It brings an intimacy and immediacy to the film that would
not otherwise be there.
Foundation for the Humanities has used the completed film to orchestrate
dialogue about mental illness on a local, state and national level.
Each public screening is designed to bring people from different backgrounds
patients, families, police, social workers, lawyers, health-care
providers together in a non-crisis situation. Partners in the
dialogue series include Windhorse Associates, the Recovery Workshop
and the Anchor House of Artists in Northampton, MA, the Massachusetts,
Vermont and New Hampshire chapters of the National Alliance for the
Mentally Ill (NAMI), the national office of NAMI, the Northampton Arts
Council, the law firm of Schmidt and Botter, The Family Diversity Project,
and the Community Services Bureau of the Northampton Police Department.
of this project, according to MFH director David Tebaldi, is to stimulate
dialogue about the impact of chronic mental illness on families. A second
goal is to bring to a large public an important story that is largely
untold: the story of millions of individuals with mental illness who
are virtually invisible to the nation at large. The ultimate goal is
to improve the lives of those with mental illness and their families
through greater understanding of their dilemmas and challenges. We
intend to use the programs as a template that can be copied by others
such as the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the state legislature,
and medical and social work schools in the region, Tebaldi said
when asked about future plans for the film.
IMAGINING ROBERT is one of the first films to tell what it is like for
the millions of families that cope, day by day and year by year, over
the course of a lifetime, with a condition for which, in most cases,
there is no solution.
is funded by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, a state
program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Animating
Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts, funded by the Ford Foundation,
the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, and the
Massachusetts Media Merit Award a program of the Boston Film and Video
Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
is available through its distributor, Films for the Humanities &
Sciences, 800-257-5126, www.films.com.