My name is Alex Queneau, I’m from France, and 2011 will be my first time volunteering at the Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival. I was pleased to be asked to write this piece for Central Station’s Featured Festival guest blogging project, to go through the festival’s history and describe it to you as I see it.

The festival was created in 2007 by Lee Knifton, a man working for the NHS tackling mental health stigma. Today, he’s the festival’s director. When writing in the first ever SMHAFF brochure, he set the tone for the festival: “The festival sets out to celebrate, explore and tackle the myths surrounding mental health – something we all have; it’s worth remembering that one in four of us will develop ill-health at some point”.

To me, there is little doubt that there are many myths surrounding mental health. The perception of mental illness has been largely distorted by the way it is presented in popular media such as newspapers and film. There are many reasons to love such brilliant horror flicks as The Shining, Halloween or Psycho but these movies have somehow contributed to the development of a negative representation of the mentally ill, mainly being depicted as wild, scary and extremely dangerous people. This cliché has been going on and on in all different kinds of stories and contexts for many decades. Don’t get me wrong, the festival does not aim at blaming these movies –they’re great entertainments! – but the festival is trying to produce, through a wide array of thought provoking, diverse and entertaining arts events, a more positive and more realistic view on mental health. “We’re just trying to increase awareness of the positive contributions people with mental health issues can and have made.” Knifton said in an 2007 interview.

The Mental Health Festival is now launching its fifth edition. Flicking through past years’ brochures, one can see how rapidly it has been growing. What began as a fairly modest weekend of films has become one of Scotland’s most valued cultural events. Coming from France, I have been working at festivals for a good few years now and to my knowledge there was initially no equivalent to the Mental Health Festival neither in France nor in the rest of Europe, although now other countries are following suit.

Rod Jones (photo by Neale Smith)

As the programme expanded over the years, increasingly big names have been performing in a number of disciplines but the festival has also been producing an increasingly large amount of smaller events where non-professional artists and mental health service users have been given the chance to share their art with the audience. And from its very beginning, the festival has put the emphasis on discovering new talents through its annual open submission Film Awards. I think Scotland may be proud of the uniqueness and the original quality of this festival and the artwork displayed at it.

This year’s programme features a record number of events taking place around Scotland from Ayrshire to the Highlands running from October 1st to 24th. The themes for 2011 are dreams and memories and once again the festival offers a wide range of events. Film screenings, gigs, theatre plays, exhibitions, visual art, workshops, literature events, poetry, storytelling performances… you name it! Get hold of a brochure or go online at, explore the programme and find what you feel you really can’t afford to miss. And take the chance to be curious as well, as most of the events are free or low cost. Whatever you choose to see, I hope you enjoy it.


The Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival will run throughout venues across Scotland from October 1-24, 2011.

Visit SMHAFF website for more information.