Mental Filmness is a Chicago-based film festival highlighting works that portray a realistic depiction of mental illness. The festival is dedicated to breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness by sharing stories and promoting empathy for those who live with these chronic psychiatric conditions. We are especially interested in challenging stereotypes, showing different perspectives on mental illness, and informing and enlightening the general public about mental health.

We define “mental illness” as a broad umbrella that encompasses any psychiatric diagnosis, emotional disorder, addiction, or other disorder of the brain.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are uncertain of the final status of the presentation of Mental Filmness. We plan to host a virtual event on the Eventive.org platform just as we did last year, no matter what happens; if we have the opportunity by that point, we would like to host a small gathering in Chicago as well. We always try to plan the festival around World Mental Health Day, which is on Monday, October 10th, 2022 this year, so we will plan to kick off that weekend, the evening of October 8th, 2022. We plan to run the virtual festival for about a month, until November 6th, 2022.

We ask for a small fee of $10 to submit your film. Mental Filmness is *not* a money-making venture, but we learned our first year that this helps cut down on irrelevant entries and offsets nominal costs like printing programs and streaming fees, and may possibly help in flying out visiting filmmakers. All leftover money will be donated to NAMI. However, if you feel you cannot afford the submission fee, please write to Sharon@mentalfilmness.com to request a waiver. Our main goal is to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness and to be open to everyone. The most important thing is to have these films seen by an audience for that purpose. Filmmakers will be given the opportunity to participate in a Q & A either virtually or in person.

By participating in Mental Filmness, you will become an exciting part of the continuation of Chicago's first film festival based around mental health.

Our festival gives out awards based on some of our objectives. There will be a Stigma Breaker award for the film we feel most effectively battles the stigma of mental illness. There will be a Realism Award for the film we feel most realistically depicts its condition. There will be an Empathy Award for the film that we feel best promotes empathy for mental illness. There will be no cash value for these awards--but you can say that you are an award winner and add some nice laurels to your media!

All films submitted must have some depiction of mental illness within them. All films must depict mental illness in a respectful and empathetic way.

Overall Rating
Quality
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Networking
  • Mental Filmness and its host Sharon Gissy were the utmost in professionalism and compassion, while still maintaining a grassroots feel that kept everything approachable and relatable. Thank you Sharon and Mental Filmness for being such gracious hosts to my doc MAD LOVE. Shine on!

    November 2021
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    Response from festival:

    Thank you, Issa!

    It was an honor to have a film of your caliber in the festival. I really enjoyed learning the story of you and Susan. It is romantic and strong and hopeful, and I loved having an opportunity to chat with you two a bit about it.

    I also enjoyed the theme of using art to overcome trauma and mental illness quite a bit, as well as viewing your artwork. Mad Love is a very inspiring documentary in a number of ways, as it shows if you hang in there and keep trying you can express yourself and there will be people who understand you.

    I was moved that you had been following the festival and had submitted. One thing is for certain, I will definitely be keeping an eye on your art in the future!

  • Sharon Gissy the festival host and programmer's passion for mental health advocacy and activism shines through in the stellar selection of films she chose for the film festival. I watched all the films and discovered many gems which I would not have come across anywhere else or at other film festivals. The caliber of films were high and also represented diverse voices within the universe of neurodiversity and the mental health spectrum. I feel honoured to have my film THE DAY MY CAT SAVED MY LIFE make its world premiere at this amazing festival. Also, the interviews with the filmmakers added more depth and dimension giving further exposure as well as a platform for the filmmakers showcased at this festival. I watched every single film. I am now a loyal and devoted fan and follower of the Mental Filmness Film Festival and hope to submit future films to this film festival. Highly recommended!

    November 2021
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    Response from festival:

    Thank you, Kagan! I am incredibly moved by these words. We do have a few great screeners for feedback, but it's overwhelming because there are always so many interesting entries. You kind of hit the head on the nail--one of the things we strive for is diversity in culture, diversity in the types of mental health issues presented, diversity in the genres of films--so a lot factors into it. Thank you for taking the time to watch the other films and I am so glad you enjoyed them.

    And of course, thank you for submitting The Day My Cat Saved My Life and also for taking the time to talk to us about your process. Your spoken word background really helped bring to life a psychotic episode for those who have never experienced it, and also the sense of grounding calm that can quell it.

    I admire your courage in drawing on your mental health to create art that helps people understand, and I hope that you continue to do it. You are correct in that the world needs neurodiverse voices, which may have a special perspective or vision you would have never considered.

  • Nandini Bapat

    Amazing festival! The organizers were super nice and welcoming -- they supported us filmmakers every step of the way and had great communication. 100% must attend again!

    November 2021
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    Response from festival:

    Thank you, Nandini! We were very lucky to receive your submission, which was unique in that it touched upon the ideas of depression and suicidal ideation in the context of an Indian American family. It is a brave and sensitive film and I wish you the best of luck with it. I hope many people get to view it and to realize how important it is to talk about it. Thank you also for taking the time to open up honestly in a candid interview and share your story.

  • Having my debut film selected in the Mental Filmness, film festival has been a 2021 highlight.

    Festival director, Sharon, not only provides a professional experience with excellent communication, she also writes about Mental illness, among other things - beautifully and frequently on her socials. This is a film festival run by a passionate and determined individual who advocates for mental illness and the removal of stigma consistently and respectfully.

    I'll be following this festival and Sharon's writing with interest in the years to come and wish the very best for its future.

    Thank you!!
    Damon.

    November 2021
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    Response from festival:

    Thank you, Damon! This warms my heart. As it turns out I just finished announcing on social media that your film Mental As Everything has received an Audience Award due to being one of the most highly-rated films in the virtual ballots this year. (I promise it was before I read this). I believe its unique brand of humor, music, and storytelling was a crowd-pleaser and communicated a lot about a variety of mental illnesses. I am so happy you submitted it and will be looking forward to what you do in the future, as well.

    With warm regards,

    Sharon.

  • Steven Adam Renkovish

    Wonderful experience with this festival! I am so honored that my film, The Awakening of Lilith, was able to be a part of it! The festival director knows her stuff, and she was incredibly kind. 10/10 all around!

    November 2021
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    Response from festival:

    Thank you, Steven! The Awakening of Lilith is fairly unique among our submissions, I must say. It added something different to have a challenging and atmospheric genre film in the lineup. I'm glad it's making the festival rounds now and I wish you all success with it.

    Sharon.