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Here At Home, an NFB Web documentary about mental illness and homelessness

by NationTalk on May 15, 20122647 Views

Montreal, May 14, 2012 – You cross paths with the homeless each day—but do you really see them? Through five Canadian cities, five filmmakers and some 40 short films posted online between now and summer 2013, Here At Home, the new interactive Web documentary from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), lets you follow in real time some of the participants in the world’s largest study on mental illness and homelessness.

Launched on May 15 at 11 a.m. on, the Canada-wide, bilingual project trains its lens on the reality of homelessness in Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. It does so by tracking participants of the At Home study, a research initiative led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and the health professionals who work with homeless populations daily. On an ongoing basis, the filmmakers will chronicle the Housing First approach—namely, giving people a home and then focusing on treatment. What are the social, human and financial consequences of providing a roof and services to those who, struggling with mental illness, live on the streets?Of the 150,000 to 300,000 homeless persons in Canada, over one-fifth have some form of mental illness

Touching on various issues—housing, employment, interpersonal relationships, substance abuse, mental illness— Here At Home will fuel public discussion on the problem of homelessness as it brings certain prejudices to light. Even more importantly, the Web documentary gives a voice to those at the heart of the matter: the study’s participants. Here At Home is produced by the NFB’s Hugues Sweeney with the participation of the Commission.

The Web documentary draws a portrait of each city and will include a blog, as well as a bilingual Facebook page that will alert users to new films and articles as they come online. From its earliest days, the NFB has prioritized works rooted in true social commitment. This is not the first time the organization has looked into mental health; it’s an approach that, in recent years, has taken on a new impetus with such online projects as Filmmaker-in-Residence and Lettre à Vincent. The Here At Home website was designed by the NFB and the Departement studio, with music by Ramachandra Borcar (a.k.a. Ram).

Five filmmakers, five cities, five realities

In Moncton, a growing city in an agricultural region, researchers examine the phenomenon of homelessness in rural and semi-urban areas, accompanied by filmmaker Louiselle Noël. Each year, approximately one percent of Moncton’s 130,000 inhabitants use the handful of municipal resources available to the homeless. Noël’s most recent work, Racing Thoughts (NFB, 2010), delves into the topic of mental illness in children.

Montreal has an elaborate network of organizations for the homeless. And the clientele is massive—28,000 by some counts. Shoe-horning a new approach like Housing First into such a well-established context is tricky. At Home is trying to coordinate with both public service providers and NGOs to help the city’s mentally ill get off the streets. This reality is chronicled by Sarah Fortin, whose previous work includes a series of award-winning shorts and a feature documentary on country-folk singer Stephen Faulkner.

In Toronto, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, the At Home study looks at mental illness and homelessness in the context of ethnocultural communities. One-third of Toronto’s homeless population are immigrants, while fully 10 percent are recent arrivals who have been in Canada for less than a decade. This reality is captured by acclaimed documentarian Manfred Becker, a Toronto filmmaker who first addressed the issue of mental health in his 2003 film Lie of Me.

Winnipeg is one of the world’s coldest cities, yet somehow close to 2,000 homeless people survive on its streets. Most of them are Aboriginal. The complex situation of these individuals, who often struggle with mental illness in addition to chronic homelessness, must be examined through the lens of their cultural heritage. Darryl Nepinak, director of My Indian Name (NFB, 2006) and known for his work in Manitoba’s Aboriginal communities, takes a fresh look at these issues.

Vancouver, a city of contradictions, is as famous for its quality of life as it is for its high numbers of injection drug users. Between 2005 and 2008, homelessness in the greater Vancouver area grew by 19 percent—a period in which self-reports of substance abuse and mental illness also increased by 63 percent and 86 percent respectively. Almost 20 years after her feature debut Kissed, director Lynne Stopkewich, regarded as one of Canada’s most important women in film, examines the complex issue of homelessness in the Lower Mainland.

At Home: A nationwide study

In 2008, the federal government gave the Mental Health Commission of Canada the green light to carry out a major, nationwide social medicine study known as At Home. The largest study of its kind ever to be conducted, At Home’s primary objective is to determine how to best assist homeless people with mental health issues. The four-year undertaking is modelled on Housing First, a strategy launched in the United States 25 years ago. For At Home, a sample was randomly divided into two groups: the study group of 1,265, who receive subsidized lodgings and one-on-one treatment and services; and the control group of 970, who have access to existing services only. At the end of the study, researchers will compile their data to see whether or not participants’ situations have changed—and if so, how. The study will end on March 31, 2013, with findings slated for release later that year. The Commission intends to share its results with every level of government, as well as with service providers and community organizations.

About the NFB

Canada’s public producer and distributor, the National Film Board of Canada creates interactive works, social-issue documentaries and auteur animation that provide the world with a unique Canadian perspective. Since the NFB’s founding in 1939, it has created over 13,000 productions and won over 5,000 awards, including 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies.

About the Mental Health Commission of Canada

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change. We are collaborating with hundreds of partners to change the attitudes of Canadians toward mental health problems and to improve services and support. Our goal is to help people who live with mental health problems and illnesses lead meaningful and productive lives. The Mental Health Commission of Canada is funded by Health Canada.


Information and interview requests:

For the National Film Board of Canada and the Mental Health Commission of Canada

Pat Dillon, NFB Publicist
Phone: 514-283-9411
Cell: 514-206-1750

Lily Robert, Director, Corporate Communications, NFB
Phone: 514-283-3838
Cell: 514-296-8261

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