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TIFF program provides creative outlet for mental health inpatients

Toronto, September 2, 2014

By Bao Xiong

Patients create their own soundtrack to a silent film
By rustling clothes and shoes, patients on 17 Cardinal Carter North create their own soundtrack to a silent film as part of TIFF’s Reel Comfort workshop. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)

The Toronto International Film Festival and St. Michael’s Hospital are bringing the outside world into an inpatient unit one film at a time.

Since 2009, TIFF has led an outreach program aimed at engaging mental health patients at St. Michael’s and Toronto General Hospital. The program, Reel Comfort, brings films and filmmaking workshops to the inpatient mental health unit on 17 Cardinal Carter North.

Reel Comfort provides not just entertainment to patients but education and a way of engaging with one another. Barbara Campbell, a registered nurse on 17CC, said she has seen a tremendous impact since the program’s inception.

“Patients need a creative outlet like Reel Comfort and they love the program,” said Campbell. “We offer many different patient-centred programming on the unit, but some patients will only come out for Reel Comfort workshops and that’s a testament to its ability to engage patients.”

Monthly screenings at St. Michael’s include feature-length films such as Coraline or The Sound of Music, short films and documentaries. Many of the movies focus on themes of personal development or coming of age.

For the monthly workshops, TIFF brings an array of directors, producers, writers and others to lead sessions on different aspects of filmmaking. During a recent session, participants used props to make the soundtrack for a 1920s movie, Neighbours. They tapped their shoes on top of the table to mimic walking, rustled clothing near the microphone to generate the sound of motion and clapped their hands for other sounds throughout the movie. Other workshops have focused on stop-motion animation, screenwriting and improvisation.


Did you know:
Since 2012, more than 600 patients have participated in TIFF’s Reel Comfort Program.

“We want to bring the film festival experience to patients who may not otherwise have access to it, to utilize film’s capacity to encourage creative expression and to cultivate relationships between health care providers, patients, and the wider community,” said Elysse Leonard, co-ordinator for Reel Comfort.

The lounge area used for workshops on 17 Cardinal Carter North is bright and airy, adorned with artwork on the walls. TIFF donated a television to the unit in 2010.

“The films are uplifting and inspiring and represent a relatable story,” said Campbell. “By using creative arts as a way to reach out, patients don’t feel limited by their diagnosis and they feel they can accomplish anything.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.