Animated film wows Madness fest

By Jasminee Sahoye

Signe Baumane
Signe Baumane

It’s not easy for someone battling mental illness to open up about their struggles, much less talk about the disease that runs through their family.

But one brave filmmaker, who first thought about producing a film on how to “erase” herself from living and no longer exist, as she puts it, while battling mental illness for years, eventually traces her family’s battle with the disease.

Signe Baumane reveals that “every 12 seconds, I think about erasing myself and not killing myself … I think about not existing, where these thoughts come from, what are the nature of these thoughts, why I wouldn’t want to exist, why I want to erase myself and so I started to write a script and I wanted to make a feature film.”

However, she did not have enough material to go with this idea and ended up sharing how three generations of her family battled mental illness.

Rocks in my Pocket tells five fantastical tales based on the courageous women in Latvian-born Baumane’s family in Eastern Europe and their battles with madness.

At a sold-out crowd at the opening of the 22nd year of Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival at the Tiff Bell Lightbox in Toronto last Monday, the audience, based on the feedback, were drawn to the animated feature film, which will be shown again this Saturday at 10 a.m.

With boundless imagination and a twisted sense of humour, Baumane has created daring stories of art, romance, marriage, business and Eastern European upheavel – all in the fight for her own sanity.

Prior to Baumane’s move to New York in 1995, she had checked into a mental hospital in Latvia and was diagnosed as manic depressive after giving birth to her son. She continues to struggle with the illness.

Dr. Paul Garfinkel, professor emeritus, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and staff psychiatrist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in a Q&A session with Baumane after the screening, describes the film as “powerful.”

He asked her “what makes people with depression go on” referring to her courage to living a full life.

“Some people don’t carry on which is always a risk, some people barely carry on and some people give up. I don’t know why I carry on. I don’t know why I struggle every day because it’s a struggle. Every day I have to discover a meaning of life. Every day I have to get up and say what’s the meaning of this day and does it fit in a bigger picture and why is it important that I continue living and I always find an answer,” she told him.

Baumane, who has produced a number of short films shown at Sundance, Berlin, Annecy, Venice, Tribeca and hundreds of other film festivals around the world, describes mental illness as carrying rocks.

Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival continues until Saturday. There will be a mental health, substance use and sport symposium on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. For a listing of films visit