Ask the Filmmakers

Joan in New York asks: West 47th Street is a terrific film and should be one in a series. The variety of the people with mental illness was not shown. It would be good if the cross population of people with mental illnesses could be presented. What about all those people who don't "appear" to have the illness but are not able to function in a daily way as people understand "functioning" (i.e. work, paying bills, socializing with family and friends)?

Bill Lichtenstein: Thanks for your questions. In fact, we shot 350 hours, and originally considered a TV series (such as 13 half-hour shows). However, ultimately we felt the power would be in a single film. There are so many dramatic stories to tell about people struggling to recover from mental illness. And we are heartened all the time by the wide variety of films being produced that look at these issues. However, at the end of the day, we wanted to focus on a small group of characters whose stories and courage would help tell the broader story.

Barbara in Colorado asks: What are your thoughts on how we most effectively bridge the coming-to-terms with serious mental illness with creating a society where individuals with less disabling forms of mental illness can courageously and freely step forward? With serious mental illness being as devastating as it is, how will we ever feel safe to admit that a moderate case of depression or stress induced anxiety warrants stepping forward and possibly being association with "them" -- the seriously disabled?

June Peoples: Dear Barbara, We believe that a time will come soon when people feel just as safe talking about their depression -- or schizophrenia, for that matter -- as they do talking about heart disease or diabetes. I take medication every day for depression and I am perfectly comfortable discussing that fact in situations where it seems appropriate. I encourage others to do the same. When we tell our own stories, we help break down the barriers that form the basis of stigmatizing attitudes and discrimination towards all people with mental illness.

James in Texas asks: It is unknown to me what "gender dysfunction" could possibly mean with respect to the dialogue in your production, "West 47th Street." Most psychologists and psychiatrists recognize that gender identity has nothing to do with physical gender. Thus it's hard for me to understand how this is an issue unless it has to do with some less obvious condition.

June: Dear James, Good question! You are of course referring to a comment Frances Olivero makes during our conversation with him by the lake. We never filmed Frances in therapy, so I do not know exactly what a clinician might have told him that led him to talk about "gender dysfunction." And, blessedly, psychiatry is well past the point of characterizing issues such as gender identification and sexual preference as disorders. What Frances told us is that he had a strong feminine side, and that from time to time in his life, he preferred to dress in a feminine way. He also said that when he felt stressed or not sure of himself he was more likely to feel safe when he was dressing feminine. As we watched his recovery from schizoaffective disorder progress, he seemed to grow more comfortable with both his masculine and feminine sides, and took great pains to make sure that he was dressing in what he felt to be appropriate for each situation.

Teri in Illinois asks: Thank you for such a great film. I was wondering, have you considered doing a film on children with mental illness? Many aspects of mental illnesses in children are different than those in adults. It would be great to see a film about all aspects of children with these illnesses to raise public awareness. This film would be greatly appreciated by families like ours, living with a bipolar child.

Bill: Having grown up with (undiagnosed) manic depressive illness, I am obviously sensitive to the issue. And the issue of children's mental health is just starting to get the public's attention. Here at Lichtenstein Creative Media we are working on a four part TV series on "Juveniles in Crisis" which will examine the inextricably intertwined areas of juvenile mental health, juvenile justice, education and the foster care systems. We will look at how the problems in each area drive those in the other three. It will hopefully contribute to a more integrated understanding of children's mental health issues.