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Natcon19 Film Festival

A brief review of 8 films.

National Council
National Council 19th Film Festival
Source: National Council

Once again, I had the pleasure of hosting the 2019 Annual National Council for Behavioral Health Film Festival. We screened and discussed eight documentaries (many available on line) often to standing room only in an auditorium that held 400 people. All the films are relevant to those interested in mental health, the addictions, families and childhood development.

Here they are, each briefly annotated:

When the Bough Breaks

One in five women develop a post-partum depression (PPD). This is a life-threatening condition and profoundly disruptive to the mother-child bond, with serious developmental consequences to the child if the illness is not treated. This 2017 film has Brooke Shields as the narrator and executive producer: she herself suffered from this condition and has made it a cause in her life. This documentary does not shy away from suicide and infanticide, the gravest consequences of the disorder. Support is life-giving, and faith and purpose can keep some women alive, but not all. What is needed is universal depression screening and treatment in OB, family medicine and general practice settings, which is where those women with PPD are seen and can be identified, engaged and helped.


Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Source: IMDb

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This was my favorite of all the films (my 2018 review can be found here). This documentary is the story of the fabled Mr. Fred Rogers, and it’s all about human kindness. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a PBS syndicated program that swept the nation, was the longest running children’s TV program until Sesame Street surpassed it. Mr. Rogers took on the toughest of topics, including anger, sadness, death, assassination (after Bobby Kennedy was killed), make believe, feeling afraid or like a fake, race, divorce, make-believe, and so much more. He was a Presbyterian minister who used this program as ministry, but he never lectured or exhorted. His message, expressed through the ten hand puppets he voiced, his music, and his neighborhood friends was to say to children (and adults), you are “fine just the way you are.” A Hollywood version is due out next year, with Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers.


Dr. Kenneth Rosenberg
Source: Dr. Kenneth Rosenberg


We showed clips of this PBS documentary due out later this year, having the privilege of Ken Rosenberg, M.D, the film’s writer and director attending for discussion of the film with me and the audience. This film drew the largest crowd of all our showings this year; we had to turn people away. Bedlam is like a stick of dynamite thrown into the dark and troubled history of mental health care for those with serious mental illness (SMI) over the past 60+ years. It powerfully portrays a story of how our country has failed those who have SMI⁠—and their families. It exposes the grave consequences of neglecting those affected, their families and communities. It shows the emergence of jails, prisons and the streets as where those who do not get needed treatment have migrated after the massive closure of state hospitals. As a psychiatrist and a family member (Dr. Rosenberg’s sister had schizophrenia), we have a uniquely informed and personal experience in this film. Bedlam was a 2019 Sundance selection.


A Dangerous Son
Source: HBO

A Dangerous Son

In this HBO documentary, we witness three families in crisis. They are struggling to navigate life with a child suffering from a severe emotional disturbance (SED, as serious mental illness is termed in the child and adolescent mental health community). Painfully, we see how this HBO documentary film exposes the cracks in a mental health system that fails too many families, with many potentially devastating consequences.


Risky Drinking

This HBO documentary film shares the real-life stories of people struggling with “risky drinking” and challenges viewers to recognize when their own drinking may put them at risk. Through case studies and expert analysis, the film investigates the broad spectrum of problem drinking.



This captivating look into childhood anxiety and its daily impact through the eyes of youth who have struggled with its effect. Candid interviews bring the faces of anxiety out of the shadows⁠—including a special appearance by Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.


Andy Irons Kissed by God

Three-time world champion surfer Andy Irons was known for his incredible presence on the world stage⁠—but behind all the fame, he silently suffered from mental illness and opioid addiction. His family and friends share the tragic story behind Andy’s lifelong struggle.


Rcovery Boys
Source: imdb

Recovery Boys

In the heart of America’s opioid epidemic, four men attempt to reinvent their lives and reenter society sober after years of drug use. This documentary shares an intimate look at the strength, brotherhood and courage it takes to overcome addiction.


Good film-making is good storytelling. And our all so human hearts love a story. The selections screened at the 19th annual meeting of NATCON, summarized above, is an exceptional group of documentaries. I hope you get to see some of them. Your comments are most welcome on Psychology Today.