Of all the places you might choose to watch a film – in a movie theatre, on television, on your home computer or iPhone – perhaps the most unlikely might be a psychiatric hospital. But that's exactly where the Movie Monday weekly program of film screenings takes place.
Movie Monday is held each week at 6:30 p.m., with admission by voluntary donation, at a 100-seat auditorium in a Victoria, B.C., psychiatric hospital, the Eric Martin Pavilion. The series shows a wide and eclectic range of movies, from Hollywood blockbusters like Titanic to small independent films like Bruce MacDonald's Trigger, with an accent on recovery stories of all kinds, especially those of mental illness and addiction (as befits the location).
Founder Bruce Saunders – who also works as a landscape maintenance gardener – has been running the program for 18 years, and started it off after his experience as a patient at the facility.
"I have bipolar disorder and was in the hospital recovering from a severe depression and second suicide attempt," he explains. "One of my fellow patients took me to the hospital auditorium to hear some live music. I had heard that films had been shown there once or twice, and could immediately envision a film program there. The idea of showing films there for patients and ex-patients captured my imagination. So as soon as I got out I wanted to do it. I got permission from the hospital for a few screenings and it grew from there."
In fact, the annual budget is now about $30,000, about half of which is provided by a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. The theatre screens 51 movies a year in the Movie Monday series, remaining dark only for Labour Day Monday. Audiences – a mix of patients, ex-patients and the general public – range from as few as 40 on holiday Mondays, to crowds so large that they can only be accommodated by a second screening.
Of course, Movie Monday pays licence fees to SOCAN under Tariff 6 for Movie Theatres. "I realized that we have to pay for the music," says Saunders. "Music needs to be considered, and the rates are totally affordable – about $120 a year. And it really feels good to support the musicians who provide the ambiance for the screenings." Saunders also pays two other organizations for the public performance of the films themselves, via two location licences, to compensate the copyright holders of the movies for the use of their material.
As intended, the screenings often stimulate discourse about mental illness, treatment, institutions and so on. "Film is such a powerful medium to engage people," says Saunders. "Rather than present a lecture about mental illness to people, you can show them a film about it, and afterwards you can sense how strongly it's affected them, how ready they are to talk about what they've just seen."
Even for those Victorian residents who don't attend the movies, the mere existence of the series supports the idea of acceptance and empowerment of people who face psychological challenges.