Toronto
3 min

Queerios

We are a mad bunch

MIND-ALTERING HEARTBREAK. Jessica Chandler's astonishing documentary, A Fine State This Is, looks at lesbian artist Fargo Deborah Whitman (who attends the Rendezvous With Madness fest in conjunction with an art retrospective at the Bracket Gallery). Credit: Xtra files

The film A Fine State This Is is a homo must-see. Jessica Chandler’s astonishing documentary looks at lesbian artist Fargo Deborah Whitman, who has multiple personality disorder (which is now referred to by the more clinical and, frankly, more opaque term disassociative identity disorder or DID). The film screens as part of an especially strong slate at Rendezvous With Madness, a 10-day festival focussing on mental illness, addiction and other odd workings of the mind.



By the end of A Fine State This Is, one wonders whether there is anything disordered about Whitman. Her living as a legion of selves, whom she calls “alters” – among them are a gay man, several children and a couple of apes – seems to make a hell of a lot more sense than the ordered repression that we call normal.



Whitman and company are friendly folk who work together. Often, she explains, her drawings are started by one of the children, who then ask Mom to finish them off. They are aware of each other, though they are not all acquainted – young Genie seems to know everyone, introducing them to the others when appropriate.



But a sadness hangs over the film: DID is often the result of extreme childhood abuse; it’s also not well understood. Embarrassed by whatever was “wrong” with her before her diagnosis, Whitman left the art scene just as she gained success, including a solo show at the Whitney in New York. Since then, she has learned to accept her alters and allows them to use her body and mind freely. And she loves them, too, indulging them in toys and trinkets and laughing at their terrible jokes. A favourite moment: The alters kiss each other. Kleenex, please.



Director Chandler is careful not to sensationalize her subject. Seeing Whitman change from grown woman to inarticulate little girl in a heartbeat is unsettling enough. And this sensitivity allows Whitman to shine. Whitman’s art – wonderful drawings and sculptures – functions as a backdrop and exhibit through which Whitman explains her condition.



The only thing wrong with this film is that it ends. Thank-fully, Whitman will be present at Bracket Gallery following the screening for the opening of a show of her work from the last decade. The Canadian premiere is on Sat, Nov 20 at 7:30pm.



Losing Sleep is a series of shorts that look at dysfunction, obsession and other manias. Most of the program’s nine films are by queerios (Sun, Nov 14, 7:30pm). Clearly, we are a mad bunch.



The strongest piece is Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay’s Subtitled, a whimsical look at those times of obsession during which all thoughts eventually return to the object of desire. It mixes pop music, gentle love angst, wry exploitation of performer-spectator relations and clever sound and image play. It’s Nemerofsky Ramsay’s best work to date: amusing, savvy and succinct, capturing some complex ideas in a deceptively simple two minutes.



The Mournful One is Wendy Coburn’s terribly sad juxtaposition of a Brahms song with images of a baby monkey that has been taken from its mother. More Kleenex, please. Daniel Barrow’s brilliant video for local darlings The Hidden Cameras’ “A Miracle” is more of what Barrow does so well – here, his animated projections tell the story of a young boy who, unable to sleep, makes shadow puppets on the wall by the light of the moon.



Also in the program are Love And Numbers, Thirza Cuthand’s look at the paranoia the world has visited upon a misfit two-spirited woman and Christina Zeidler’s Kill Road, the hilarious tale of one dysfunctional family’s attempt to deal with the roadkill that sidelines the family vacation. Allyson Mitchell’s My Life In 5 Minutes features family snapshots of the artist as a child while Mitchell sings along in that excruciating way children do – off-key, making it up as they go along and making you want to pour hot silicone in your ears. And M-Theory, by Nikki Forrest, uses a series of self-portraits to explore the notions of memory and metamorphosis.



Unavailable for viewing were Chris Landreth’s short Ryan, an animated piece about Ryan Larkin, the Oscar-nominated Canadian animation pioneer who ended up panhandling on the streets (Thu, Nov 11 and 18, 7:30 pm); a film of Larkin’s from 1968 called Walking; and Laurence Green’s Alter Egos, a piece about Larkin and Landreth (both Nov 18, 7:30pm). Finally, there’s Deirdre Logue’s That Beauty playing with Meaghan Horner’s Relinquish, about a girl-on-girl high-school crush (Fri, Nov 19, 1:30pm).



There you have it kids. Go crazy!



* Fargo Deborah Whitman’s retrospective, A Fine State This Is: Paintings And Drawings 1994-2004, opens on Sat, Nov 20 at 9pm at Bracket Gallery (1168 Queen St W), continuing till Dec 11; (416) 538-2659.



RENDEZVOUS WITH MADNESS.

$8 most screenings.

Thu, Nov 11-20.

Workman Theatre.

1001 Queen St W.

(416) 583-4606.

Rendezvouswithmadness.com.