National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Arlington, VA - In 1997, the book struck a nerve with hundreds of thousands of Americans and led to Robert Neugeboren's deinstitutionalization. Five years later, as President George W. Bush launches a Commission on Mental Health to recommend changes in the nation's treatment system for mental illness, Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness and Survival, is making rounds again as a one-hour documentary.
The true story about two brothers and their family's experience with schizophrenia is enough to move an audience not only to tears-but also political action.
The New York premiere of the film is scheduled for June 11, 2002 at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) New York City Metro affiliate. A panel discussion with Jay and Robert Neugeboren and representatives of Fountain House, Project Renewal, and NAMI NYC Metro also will be held.
On June 27, NAMI also will present the film at its national convention in Cincinnati, as part of the theme "Building Communities of Hope." A panel discussion at the convention will include producer Larry Hott, Project Renewal director Jim Mutton, NAMI national board vice-president Patricia Warburg Cliff, and NAMI Stigmabusters coordinator Stella March.
Funded in part by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, Imagining Robert premiered on April 28 at Smith College. Award-winning novelist Jay Neugeboren who wrote the memoir on which the documentary is based, retired last year from the University of Massachusetts This past week, the film was presented to legislators at the State House in Boston. It also will be shown at the Massachusetts State Hospital in Tewksbury on June 20.
"Imagining Robert will make an important contribution to public education and dialogue about mental illness in the months ahead," said NAMI Executive Director Richard C. Birkel, Ph.D. "It provides a very human look at the harshness of the past and the present promise of recovery. It should remind all of us, as a society, that no one-not any individual, nor any family-should ever be abandoned."
Photographs, transcripts and a calendar of screenings are available at www.imaginingrobert.org. The film is available through Films for the Humanities & Sciences at www.films.com or 1-800-257-5126. Information about the filmmakers, Larry Hott and Diane Garey, who have won an Emmy, Peabody and two Academy Award nominations for previous works, is available at www.florentinefilms.org.
For almost 40 years, Robert lived in a mental health system in which his treatment changed with every new doctor or potential cure. He has been in state hospitals, city hospitals, halfway houses, group homes, treatment center, jail cells, and briefly, independent apartments. A turning point came when he was doing well enough to be moved from a locked ward at South Beach Psychiatric Center on Staten Island, but his psychiatrist refused. The doctor dismissed his brother Jay's complaints, saying sarcastically: "Talk to the Governor." As a professional writer, Jay was a formidable advocate. Like many NAMI family members, he wrote the Governor, insisting that there had to a better way to treat his brother. The Governor responded, just as many NAMI families today are hoping that President Bush's commission will respond by opening doors to better treatment and recovery.
Today, Robert lives at Project Renewal, a sunny residence in New York for people with mental illness, some of whom were once homeless. He has the freedom to come and go, and in the film, spends time with his brother on several outings. Their interaction is moving and at times funny. Themes of family and history predominate. Schizophrenia is presented as something terrible that happened to them-but clearly not the essence of their souls.
In addition to the Massachusetts program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the film is funded by the Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts, funded by the Ford Foundation; the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism and the Carter Center; and the Massachusetts Media Award, a program of the Boston Film and Video Foundation and Massachusetts Arts Council.