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The Reel Man
By Rebecca Aldous - Victoria News

Bruce Saunders swings open the glass door to the psychiatric ward hugging a giant, transparent yellow garbage bag full of popcorn under his right arm.

Saunders, a landscaper, is smiling, wearing his gardening clothes and a floppy wide-brim hat as he carries another bag of popcorn from his car.


Bruce Saunders in front of the big screen at the Eric Martin (photo: Sharon Tiffin/News staff)
It takes about one hour to fill one bag with his small popcorn maker, usually he does it over breakfast.

But it's no bother: it's all a part of the routine of getting ready for Movie Mondays – an event central to Saunders' life for the last 16 years.

Referring to the night as his "soap box," it's been instrumental in improving his health.

You see, the first time Saunders came through the door of the Eric Marten Pavilion in 1989, he was on a gurney.

"I was a patient here," he says.

Saunders was admitted after a suicide attempt during his depressive cycle of manic depression, received treatment, got better and left.

Four years later he was back on that gurney.

But this time his stint in the hospital led him to discover the 100-seat lecture auditorium at the very end of the hospital's main floor hall. The theatre toyed with his imagination.

"If you had a theatre like this what would you do with it?" he asked, pointing out the nice angled seating and high ceiling.

Movies was Saunders' answer. But not just any movies, movies that related to mental illness, movies that expanded thinking and opened people's mind. The theatre evolved into an instrument to inspire.

The first night he hosted a showing, 14 people all from the ward took their places in the seating to watch Cannery Row. That was the biggest attendance for several weeks.

One thing Saunders did notice was conversation after the movies were engaging and insightful.

"Then I realized that it was working (to help a few people) and maybe would help more if I invited the general public," he says.

It was Saunders answer to chipping away at mental health stigmas.

Stigmas have been identified by the Mental Health Commission of Canada as a key barrier which stops people from receiving help they need.

While the commission launches a major, national 10-year anti-stigma and discrimination reduction campaign, Saunders hopes people attending the movie nights will mingle with people from all walks of life, including those in the hospital, and see that these people are not scary, or dangerous, or unreliable.

"Unfortunately the stigmas still exist all these years later," Saunders says.

Saunders has won a number of awards for the event – everything from a B.C. Association of Clinical Counsellors Communications Award to Canadian Mental Health Association's Consumer Involvement award.

Beyond the recognition, Saunders' "soap box" has attracted some of the top names in the medical field to Victoria.

On May 4, University of Calgary associate professor Barbara Schneider will attend the movie night to talk about her six-year-long research project studying housing people with mental illness.

No matter who comes or goes, Saunders says he'll try to always be at the auditorium on a Monday night. It's like a home away from home.

Five o'clock is inching up, Saunders says. He's got to get the projector ready and the other giant bag of popcorn from his car. But before he turns to his work, Saunders makes one parting comment.

"You know the biggest compliment to me is when people come not knowing what the movie is," he says. "They just trust it's going to be a good night."

Movie Monday is a by donation event. For more information on the night and a list of upcoming movies visit www.moviemonday.ca. If you missed a flick you really wanted to see, Yo Video, at 107-2000 Cadboro Bay Rd. now carries the Movie Monday Film Collection. To check availability or to reserve a film, please call Yo Video at 250-592-5678.