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25th International Bremen Film Conference, May 6–9, 2020

Mind/Screens: Mental Illness and Film

Call for Papers

In 2020, the International Bremen Film Conference will shed light on mental health illness in relation to film. In order to define mental illness, medical and social sciences used to draw on differentiation, distinction and external description, characterizing it as a flaw, deviation or condition that requires urgent improvement. Film, on the contrary, subtly questions those normative and stigmatizing mechanisms, and enables the audience to experience what it means to be mentally ill. In this way, cinema contributes to a critical rethinking of medical discourses, opening up new vistas to subjective insights and personal experiences. The Sym-posium invites international experts and filmmakers to discuss mental illness with regard to film. The central focus is whether and how cinema is articulating and molding the aesthetics of mental illness.

Cinematic mental illness motifs go beyond—and even reverse—the conventional “finity topos” implied by temporary somatic illness. Particularly, they broach the issue of crisis, loss, being lost, and of a changing reference to the self and the body. Film is able to express and make comprehensible divergent impressions of temporal, spatial and logical coherence in all their complexity. It seems, therefore, reasonable to consider not only the mind as the central place for mental illness to occur and to attain its efficacy, but also the cinema as a place where the aesthetics of psychic difference are taking shape.

Cinema emerged from the same promise of technical progress as medical and forensic novelties. These developments describe a history of visualization and categorization. In this context, medicine and psychology formulated organizational systems, such as the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), that is meant to define mental illness amongst others. However, the history of disputed classifications, e.g. Hysteria, shows on the one hand such attempts that proved to be delusive. On the other hand, it revealed that both the taxonomies and their valuation basis are results of historical and socio-cultural—that is, amendable—circumstances. A historic perspective also changes the way we see mental illness as projection screen for political and social power relations. Producing, defining and categorizing portrayals of mental illness is thus to be reflected against the background of their contexts of origin. Film (just as other arts) makes this reference frame accessible without necessarily falling back on pathological mechanisms.

During the last 35 years, a film scholar perspective contributed to a consideration of mental illness as organized through medial imagination, as well as independently from clinical definitions. Instead of pathologizing and criticizing representations, mental illness is probed for fictionalized, autobiographic, documentary and essayistic story-telling through the prism of aesthetic, discourse analytical and constructivist concerns. In addition, the recent research area of Visual Medical Humanities deepens the discussion and negotiation of further sources of frictions between medical and social sciences, and strives to explore the particular role of visual practice in this context.
Exploring all the varieties of analytical approaches to “Mind/Screens: Mental Illness and Film,” the 25th International Bremen Film Conference aims to enhance the discussion on the ways in which cinema forms and informs our idea of mental illness, both as a field for experimentation, and a as a place for reflection on how mental illness is construed both socially and audio-visually. Further-more, the Symposium will also facilitate the analysis of critical and affirmative audio-visual productions as discourses on mental illness and physician-patient relations on screen.

Abstracts are invited on topics related, but not limited to:

  • Mental illness and well-being on screen
  • Autobiography and autopathobiography as aesthetic practice
  • Aesthetic strategies of appropriation of mental illness
  • Intersectional mental illness and gender/race/class on screen
  • Visual Medical Humanities
  • Illness narratives, physician-patient relations
  • Mental illness as motivator of film production
  • “Pathogenic / productive” collectives and production contexts
  • Film as epistemology of illness and meaning-making medium
  • Film as medium for health education
  • Visibility and representation from a point of view of aesthetics
  • Madness in relation to postcolonialism and authoritarianism

The 25th International Bremen Film Conference offers a platform for interdisciplinary exchange on contemporary and historical narratives and representations of mental illness on screen. The conference will combine talks, panel discussions, film screenings and Q&As with artists and film mak-ers. It will take place from May 6 to 9, 2020, at Bremen’s community cinema CITY 46. Abstracts for papers that address the topic above and provide an interdisciplinary and film-theoretical approach are welcome. If you wish to participate in the 25th International Bremen Film Conference please submit an abstract (2000 characters) with a short curriculum vitae in German or English by Octo-ber 6, 2019. A small travel allowance may be granted, but funds are limited.