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Film earns acclaim, prompts call for Govt apology

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Film earns critical and community acclaim, prompts call for Government apology

19 April 2012

This week’s Wellington screenings of documentary Mental Notes will be accompanied by a call for a formal Government apology.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Jim Marbrook and playing as part of the World Cinema Showcase, the film is about the often shameful history of New Zealand’s psychiatric hospitals – a history that has never been officially recognised, despite the June 2007 release of a report by a Government-appointed forum that heard corroborated evidence of poor practice and abuse in government-run psychiatric hospitals.

As noted in the conclusion of the Report of the Confidential Forum for Former In-Patients of Psychiatric Hospitals, many participants hoped the forum process would result in further improvement to New Zealand’s mental health services.

“Another hope of many former patients who came to the Forum,” says the report, “was that the Government would give a public acknowledgment or apology showing that the Government understood that many former in-patients of psychiatric hospitals had had experiences that were deeply humiliating and demeaning, often taking a lifelong toll. Many who spoke of this said that a public acknowledgment/apology would make them feel valued and accepted in a way that was very important for them, often saying that such recognition of the experiences of former patients would help bring closure.”

While the Government of the day accepted the Confidential Forum’s report and its gravitas in June 2007, there has never been an official acknowledgement, let alone apology. Now director Jim Marbrook has been informed by sources in the mental health community that the Government is currently approaching former patients involved in a litigation process with cash offers in exchange for indemnity from any potential civil proceedings. In some cases, payments of as little as $20,000 are meant to compensate for decades of mistreatment.

Marbrook understands mental health advocates will be attending the Wellington screenings on Friday 20 and Saturday 21 April in order to add their voices to the gathering call for a formal recognition of what many patients suffered.

“One of the things that led me to make the film,” he says, “was my realisation that the patients’ stories were missing from the official histories of the psychiatric hospitals. I hope Mental Notes goes some way to addressing this absence but it can in no way make up for the lack of an official acknowledgement of what went on in those places. The Government’s continued silence on the subject is a real stain on our collective sense of New Zealand as a fair and just society.”

Mental Notes has already been acclaimed by audiences, critics and members of the mental health community.

Tickets to its Auckland World Cinema Showcase screenings were in hot demand, with half the sessions sold out.

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand chief executive Judi Clements endorses Mental Notes as a reminder “of an era that to a large extent has passed but should not be forgotten” and an illustration of how “practices that may be appropriate, or even seen as good practice, in professional terms in one era may be regarded as totally unacceptable, or even brutal, in the next”.

Meanwhile, Dominion Post and Radio New Zealand, National film reviewer Graeme Tuckett recommends Mental Notes as “a stunning film: moving, funny, and – even though I hate this word – important. Go and see it.”

In the NZ Herald, Peter Calder has praised the film for its “measured, unsensationalist tone and its focus on the survivors rather than the historical horrors”, noting that “it’s not simply a catalogue of victimhood; its subjects’ stories are full of humour and hope”; while according to Onfilm’s Helen Martin, “This is a film that will resonate with so many New Zealanders.”


Remaining Mental Notes World Cinema Showcase sessions:


Friday 20 April, 12pm, Paramount Cinema

Saturday 21 April, 6 pm, Paramount Cinema


Monday 23 April, 6:15 pm, Regent Theatre

Tuesday 24 April, 11:15am, Regent Theatre


Saturday 5 May, 5:30 pm, Hollywood Theatre

Monday 7 May, 12 pm, Hollywood Theatre

Mental Notes notes

Mental Notes was made with the financial support of the Frozen Funds Trust, a feature film finishing grant from the New Zealand Film Commission, and a reTHiNK Grant from Mind and Body Consultants.

• Watch the Mental Notes trailer:

• For more on Mental Notes, see

About the World Cinema Showcase

From the organisers of the New Zealand International Film Festival, the World Cinema Showcase is an annual collaboration between the NZ Film Festival Trust and enterprising exhibitors in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch. Now in its 14th year, the Showcase screens an important mix of intelligent features and documentaries in Auckland (from 29 March), Wellington (5 April), Dunedin (19 April), and Christchurch (26 April).

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