Stories behind a Peterborough shelter intersect at Rendezvous with Madness fest

By Liam Lacey

Rating: B-plus.

Screening as part of the 25th annual Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival,  the documentary, Pushback,  shines a light on homelessness and addiction on the streets of Peterborough, Ontario. This loose, cinema verité, essentially agenda-free film, follows five people linked to a shelter called The Warming Room (which would have been a better film title).

The Warming Room, a bare bones operation in a church basement, provides cots, coffee and warm socks for people during the cold winter months. But it, because of money restraints, it's closed in summer, when the film takes place.

 Caregiver Andrew has problems of his own in Pushback, part of Rendezvous with Madness

Caregiver Andrew has problems of his own in Pushback, part of Rendezvous with Madness

The  subjects include Craig, a gregarious former drug user, seems to be getting his life on track: He's  enrolled in high-school, has plans to graduate and start a career. He lives with his partner, Jeannie, and her son.  Then there's Kelly, a  well-spoken woman with alcohol issues, now living in a run-down house with drug-users. Brian is a musician on methadone treatment, unable to sleep in a bed because of his joint pain. Mike, who sleeps outdoors, is a well-read intellectual eccentric, who rows to his island hideout in a canoe filled with books. Rounding out the group is Andrew, a community care worker, who makes his living tending bar when the Warming Room is closed. 

There are a number of crises over the six months. Craig's step-child is taken by child services when the kid is hospitalized after ingesting a pill he found on the floor.  Kelly appears in one scene wearing a nasty bruise around her mouth, from where one of her out-of-control house-mates hit her.  She frets because she can't get her broken glasses replaced.

Andrew, the good-hearted care-giver, also suffers a number of setbacks, including a sleeping disorder, depression, and a careless driving charge, all possibly related to the emotional toll of the work he does.

 Hayes' respectful-to-a-fault approach observes without much interrogation, but underscores what should be obvious; as George Orwell observed in Down and Out in Paris and London, that the poor are no less intelligent or virtuous than those with money. Their challenges - mental health issues, the legacy of sexual abuse, susceptibility to drugs and alcohol - are aggravated  by institutional indifference.

Near the end of the film, Christian Harvey, the Anglican deacon who is the director of The Warming Room, says it's a place for building relationships: "You see the transformation of volunteers who come, who had an idea of homeless being people making bad choices and if they stop making those bad choices, homelessness will be done. Obviously a myth but it's a myth we tell ourselves so we can live with ourselves at night."

Pushback. Directed by Matthew Hayes. Written by Hayes andJon Hedderwick. See screening times below.

The Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival, dealing with mental health and recovery issues, celebrates its 25th year and runs from Friday to Saturday, Nov. 11. Venues include Workman Theatre, 651 Dufferin St.,  St. Anne’s Anglican Church, 270 Gladstone Avenue,  and CAMH, 1001 Queen Street West. Some tickets will be available on a pay-what-you-can basis at each screening. For the full schedule and ticket information, go to http://www.rendezvouswithmadness.ca/festival/

Highlights:

Mad to Be Normal (d. Robert Mullan)Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gambon, Gabriel Byrne and David Tennant star in this drama about R.D. Laing (Tennant), the sixties' psychiatrist who claimed madness was a "perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world," and encouraged his followers to take L.S.D.  Friday, Nov. 3, St. Anne's Church; Sat. Nov. 4, 11 a.m., Workman Theatre,  

Women on the Verge: Global Shorts on Women's Experience, includes a selection of short dramatic films that deal with women coping with madness and recovery. Sun. Nov. 5,  2 p.m., Workman Theatre.

Inside the House of Psychotic Women. Author and film programmer, Kier-La Janisse, launches her book, Inside the House of Psychotic Women, about women’s relationship with horror genre and representation of female madness. Nov. 5, Sat. 5 p.m., Workman Theatre.

Dr. Feelgood (D. Eve Marson)  A half-dozen drug-dispensing celebrity physicians and one British pub-rock band have borne the title, Dr. Feelgood. In this case, it refers to present-day Virginia pain specialist, Dr. William Hurwitz,  who, in 2004,  received a 25-year prison sentence for distributing opioids. Nov. 7, Tuesday, 12 p.m., CAMH (Queen Street), Rm 2029.. Nov. 7, Tuesday, 8:30, Workman Theatre.

Pushback (D. Matthew Hayes) This Peterborough, Ontario-set documentary follows four former residents of a church basement shelter, and their caregiver, over a summer on the streets. (See review above).  Tuesday, Nov. 7, 12 p.m., CAMH, Queen Street, Training Room A/B. Wednesday, Nov. 8,  6 p.m., Workman Theatre.

Manic (dir, Kalina Bertin) uses found  material and interviews with her filmmaker's family about her cult leader father’s mental health.  Nov. 8, Wednesday, 9 p.m., Workman Theatre. 

The Light of the Moon (d. Jessica M. Thompson, USA, stars Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-NineShort Term 12) as a young Brooklyn architect who is sexually assaulted and struggles with the emotional aftermath. The feature debut for Jessica M. Thompson,  had its debut last March at the South-by-Southwest Film Festival. The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin wrote: "With the wider cultural conversation about rape culture, especially in the U.S., raging in the media, this honest and complex engagement with the subject is particularly welcome.and a timely exploration of the issue."  Friday, Nov. 10, 6 p.m., Workman Theatre.