The theatre lights dim, the crowd goes quiet. As you lean back in your chair and reach for your popcorn your eyes focus on the screen in front of you. Is this just another typical night out at the movies? Well yes and no.
This moment is what Bruce Saunders, Coordinator of Movie Monday, refers to as "psychosocial rehabŠ an artistic event, a chance to educate, and a really good time". Started in the spring of 1993, the idea for Movie Monday came to Saunders when as a patient he recognized the potential to show films in the 100-person theatre connected to the hospital. "Many people avoid meetings and information about mental illness. The power of film is that it gets people thinking, and talking without coming across as cold education," Saunders explains.
Held every week at the Eric Martin Pavilion, Movie Monday allows people from the community and patients on the ward to watch an array of movies ranging from blockbusters and cartoons to documentaries on heavy metal bands. Many of the movies shown are related to issues surrounding mental illness and social stigmas.
Admission is free or by donation, with popcorn, candy, and sodas available for a nominal charge. Keeping the cost of the night low is an important aspect of this night for Saunders who sees Movie Mondays as "a good place to meet local people with similar experiences, people who may not necessarily be able to attend other theatres. People get to know one another, there are lots of regulars."
In order to keep the movies available for the public week after week Saunders has found support from the arts community and the Canada Council. Saunders believes that the support he receives comes from a mutual understanding that the Movie Monday program reaches a unique audience, a group of people who, because of financial marginalization may not be able to see films elsewhere.
For Saunders the motivation to keep reaching out to the public, and creating a forum for mental health discussion is entirely personal. "One of the best results of this experiment has been to shed all the baggage that comes with the usual secrecy and to make a constructive thing of our family's challenges of mental illness. Weekly now I see the healing effect of that openness."