The world continues to reel from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the importance of mental health awareness into everyday life. This makes the 29th edition of the Rendezvous With Madness Festival that much more important, with it being the largest and longest-running arts festival in the world dedicated to the intersection of mental health and artistic expression.

The 2021 festival runs from October 28 – November 7 and presents 18 feature films and five short programs, with a total of 68 films from 18 countries, in a hybrid format of virtual and in-person screenings.  As always, films are complemented by thought-provoking post-screening Q&As and curated panel discussions. In addition to this year’s robust film program, the festival includes its annual visual art exhibit IN(SITE), featuring innovative work made in various media; this year presented on a dedicated online portal. Film and visual art programming are complemented by a new production of acclaimed playwright Rosa Laborde’s TRUE featuring Maev Beatty, Layne Coleman, Beau Dixon, Ingrid Doucet, and Shannon TaylorThe 2021 festival will inaugurate Workman Arts new permanent home at CAMH, in the McCain Centre for Complex Care and Recovery, bringing them back home to Queen St. West, where the festival first began.

The Opening Night presentation of the acclaimed documentary KÍMMAPIIYIPITSSINI: THE MEANING OF EMPATHY from widely acclaimed director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is a critical portrait of the impact of addiction on Indigenous communities and the compassionate harm reduction efforts being undertaken from within,” says Workman Arts Managing Director Scott Miller Berry. “A beautiful example of personal documentary storytelling, the film truly exemplifies empathetic filmmaking while also putting proof to the practical importance of empathy in addiction and mental health treatment – we are extremely proud to open the festival this year with this essential film.”

The Closing Night World Premiere presentation of DRUNK ON TOO MUCH LIFE from Toronto’s Michelle Melles, sees the director explore what it means to be ‘normal’ in a world gone mad through the story of her daughter Corinna’s mental health journey.

Other festival highlights that foreground first-person narratives include an Artist Spotlight on self-described “bipolar, non-binary, two-spirit Butch Boy” of Plains Cree and Scots descent and member of Little Pine First Nation – Multimedia artist Thirza Cuthand. A prolific artist working across multiple disciplines to explore interconnected issues related to madness, queer identities, Indigeneity, and sexuality. Award-winning documentary ANNY from Czech director Helena Třeštíková makes its Canadian premiere with the story of a 46-year-old sex worker told in Trestikova’s signature “time-lapse documentary” approach. Other highlight Canadian Premieres include JACINTA from Jessica Earnshaw, following Jacinta and her mother Rosemary as they move in and out of the corrections system while recovering from an intergenerational legacy of addiction; and NORTH BY CURRENT from director Angelo Minax that depicts a lyrical exploration of generational addiction, Christian fervour, and trans embodiment.

For the first time in its history, Rendezvous With Madness runs over Halloween. In the spirit of the season, the festival will present a special in-person Retro Rendezvous screening of Todd Haynes’ 1995 classic SAFE. Programmed in the third edition of Rendezvous Festival, when SAFE first premiered, it spoke directly to the fear surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 2021, the coronavirus brings new relevance to Haynes’ seminal treatment of the most terrifying thing of all, the unseen.

In addition to short films screening before most feature films and the Artist Spotlight on Thirza Cuthand, four short film programs are offered in 2021. Rendezvous’ IF YOU ASK ME short film line-up returns for its fifth year, showcasing emerging young filmmakers with mental health and/or addiction experiences from across the country.  PROCESSING DURATION is an anthology of short films by Workman Arts members contemplating subjects within service, restriction, healing, and embodied time.  AUTISTIC REELS RECLAIMING OUR STORIES presents nine shorts from Autistic creators that radically challenge stereotypes about life on the spectrum.  WHAT EVERYONE GETS is a collection of films exploring the universal subject of mortality in relation to ritual, spectacle, care, love, and the traces we leave behind.

Rather than presenting the festival’s annual visual art exhibition on-site, in 2021, the festival presents work IN(SITE)via a dedicated web portal curated with work designed to be experienced virtually.  IN(SITE) exhibit artists bring reflection and insight on their experiences of our changing world, many commenting directly on their pandemic mental health experiences. In SELF//ISOLATION Calgary artist Chelsea Watson brings her generative art practice to a collection of photos taken every month she spent in isolation during the pandemic, attempting to capture the chaos, fog, and distortion often experienced in times of trauma. Similarly, Toronto-based visual and performance artist Leena Raudvee presents a series of pen and ink drawings that emerged from a daily pandemic drawing practice in HYBRID PRECARITY.  

SZEPTY/WHISPERS: DIALOGUE is a web-based experiential work that immerses participants in a multitude of perspectives on madness, trauma, and neurodivergence from artist Veronique West.

Two works from IN(SITE) bookend Rendezvous with performance pieces offered in-person and virtually on the festival’s Opening and Closing nights.  For the festival’s opening, Amplify Collective presents UNBREAKABLE, a performance experience that challenges oppressive systems with movement, music, distressed textiles, and elaborate wearable sculpture.  On closing day, artists Ashley Bowen and Lesley Marshall present the virtual, immersive multimedia work GREEN GAZING, employing sound, images, and biofeedback to connect participants, artists, and plants in the act of creation.

New this year, the BIG FEELS: Post Radical Growth Symposium augments a characteristically robust program of curated talks, workshops, panel discussions, and performances. This two-day online symposium for the arts and mental health sectors highlights the importance of an intersectional approach when considering and engaging with mental health themes.  

The 2021 festival also offers free workshops and professional development events on topics as diverse as mobile AI and AR for contemporary arts presentation, a master class with Chelsea Watson on computational artmaking, an art collage workshop inspired by film selection POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHÉ, and distribution and funding information sessions for filmmakers.

Workman Arts’ new location at CAMH, at the McCain Centre for Complex Care and Recovery at 1025 Queen Street West, Workman Arts is now fully wheelchair accessible.  ASL interpretation will be provided for select programs.

Tickets for Rendezvous With Madness events are available for online booking. All tickets are pay-what-you-wish. Please note that this year there are no walk-up sales due to COVID-19, so tickets must be booked online. For complete listings, and to purchase advance tickets, click here.  

KÍMMAPIIYIPITSSINI: THE MEANING OF EMPATHY (2021) D: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers | CANADA | Documentary | 124 MIN + PANEL
IN-PERSON SCREENING – Thursday, Oct 28, 6:30 PM
WATCH ONLINE Oct 28 – Nov 7 available across Canada

Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy chronicles the impact of the opioid crisis on Indigenous communities. Tailfeathers focuses on Alberta’s Kainai First Nation, where her mother, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, works tirelessly to support and educate families affected by the overdose epidemic. The film presents viewers with a series of first-hand accounts from local first responders, healthcare professionals, and people with substance-use disorder.

Kímmapiiyipitssini is a Blackfoot word for empathy and kindness. The Meaning of Empathy explains why embracing this practice is critical to combating addictions. Criminalizing drug use does not address the root problem; a legacy of colonialism and intergenerational trauma inflicted by racist government policies. The film reveals the merits of this new approach, even as it faces resistance from conservative policymakers. Tailfeathers has crafted one of the year’s most powerful films, chronicling the Kainai First Nation’s struggles, while honouring its strength and resilience.

WATCH ONLINE Sun, Oct 31, 8-10 PM ET available across Canada

Special 25th-ish anniversary screening of the seminal film Safe by Todd Haynes, which was presented at the third Rendezvous With Madness in 1995. The timing of this retrospective cannot be separated from the current coronavirus pandemic we’ve all been living through since spring 2020; nor can the serendipitous timing of Halloween; this is a quintessential horror film as seen through the character of Carol White (played magnificently by Julianne Moore). Director Todd Haynes set the film in 1987 and follows White, a well-to-do California housewife who suddenly finds herself struggling to breathe while doctors continually insist that nothing is amiss with her health. Before long, Carol self-diagnoses herself to be reacting to the toxic chemicals around her, stating emphatically that she’s “allergic to the 20th century.” When Safe was originally released many viewers viewed Carol’s plight as a metaphor for the HIV/AIDS epidemic; in 2021 it’s both that pandemic and the current one that will leave their marks on you long after the film’s credits roll.

WATCH ONLINE Oct 29 – Nov 7 available across Canada

Rendezvous is thrilled to be presenting a solo artist spotlight on Thirza Cuthand, a prolific artist who works across multiple disciplines to explore interconnected issues related to madness, queer identities, Indigeneity, and oh yes, sex and sexuality.

EXTRACTIONS (2020 | 15 min) A personal film about so-called Canada’s extraction industries and the detrimental effects on the land and Indigenous peoples.

ANHEDONIA (2001 | 9 min) Depression and suicide are met head on in this confessional piece. Anhedonia urges the viewer to open their eyes to the source of illness in Indigenous communities.

SIGHT (2012 | 3 min) Super 8 footage layered with Sharpie marker lines and circles obscuring the image illustrates the filmmaker’s experiences with temporary episodes of migraine-related blindness and her cousin’s self-induced blindness.

LOVE & NUMBERS (2004 | 8 min) A Two Spirited woman surrounded by spy signals and psychiatric walls attempts to make sense of love, global paranoia, and her place in the history of colonialism.

LESS LETHAL FETISHES (2019 | 9 min) “Not a sex video. Maybe a sexy video? About a latent gas mask fetish, but maybe actually about a certain art world tear gas controversy the filmmaker was involved in.” – T.C.

MEDICINE BUNDLE (2020 | 9 min) “A film about a bundle that was used in my family to heal by Great Great Grandfather from a smallpox epidemic and a life-threatening wound from a gun used against him during the Battle of Cutknife Hill in 1885.” – T.C.

WOMAN DRESS (2019 | 6 min) A recent short compiling archival images and dramatized re-enactments, this film shares a Cuthand family oral story, honouring and respecting Woman Dress without imposing colonial binaries on them.

NEUROTRANSMITTING (2021 | 8 min) In this brand-new piece, Thirza and her mother Ruth explore wellness as it connects to mental health, psychiatric institutions, family, and the medical industrial complex. The intimate conversation is held over a backdrop of Ruth’s beaded scans of brains affected by mental illness.

DRUNK ON TOO MUCH LIFE (2021) D: Michelle Melles | CANADA | 77 MIN + PANEL | WORLD PREMIERE | Documentary
WATCH ONLINE Oct 29 – Nov 7 available across Canada

What does it mean to be normal in a world gone mad? That’s the question at the heart of writer-director Michelle Melles’ poignant documentary, Drunk on Too Much Life. The film strives to change how people perceive those with mental health issues, framing their conditions as potentially insightful gifts rather than burdensome disorders.

Drunk on Too Much Life focuses on Melles’ daughter, Corrina Orrego, a young woman who has experienced mental illness for much of her adult life. Corrina describes herself as “being trapped inside her own mind games.” Now, after years of doctors, medications and mental health facility check-ins, her family starts exploring healing methods outside of standard biomedical models. These alternative treatments positively impact Corrina, reflecting the healing power of art, creativity, and meaningful human connections.

ANNY (2020) D: Helena Třeštíková | CZECH REPUBLIC | 67 MIN + Q&A LANGUAGE: Czech with English subtitles CANADIAN PREMIERE | Documentary
WATCH ONLINE Oct 29 – Nov 7 in Ontario only
PRE-RECORDED VIRTUAL Q&A Available with the film

Anny became a sex worker at the age of 46, and since then has kept returning to the streets of Prague, rain or shine, as cars pass by her at a snail’s pace. Director Helena Třeštíková recorded Anny between 1996 to 2012 as is her unique approach: she follows ordinary people for years in what she’s dubbed “time-lapse documentaries.” These carefully crafted portraits indirectly capture larger lines of histories — in this case, the economic crisis years that sometimes prompt Anny to reflect on communism. Gently edited, this documentary shifts in time between Anny slowly growing older and her daily life that is often challenging, filled with concerns about her grandchildren and her failing health. An insightful portrait of a person who, with courage and determination, carries on despite life’s surprises.

JACINTA (2020) D: Jessica Earnshaw | USA | 105 MIN | CANADIAN PREMIERE |Documentary
WATCH ONLINE Oct 29 – Nov 7 available across Canada

Filmed for over the course of three years, this documentary begins at the Maine Correctional Center where Jacinta, 26, and her mother Rosemary, 46, are incarcerated together, both recovering from drug addictions. As a child, Jacinta became entangled in her mother’s world of drugs and crime and has followed her in and out of the system since she was a teenager. This time, as Jacinta is released from prison, she hopes to maintain her sobriety and reconnect with her own daughter, Caylynn, 10, who lives with her paternal grandparents. Despite her desire to rebuild her life for her daughter, Jacinta continually struggles against the forces that first led to her addiction. With unparalleled access and a gripping vérité approach, director Jessica Earnshaw paints a deeply intimate portrait of mothers and daughters and the effects of trauma over generations.

LUGINSKY (2020) D: Haiena | JAPAN | 63 MIN + Q&A LANGUAGE: Japanese with English subtitles NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
WATCH ONLINE Oct 29 – Nov 7 available across Canada

Winner of the Cinema Fan Award at the 2020 PIA Film Festival at the National Film Archive of Japan, Luginsky is an incredibly unique animated film replete with early and modern computer graphics, still photography and a collage of cut-outs, which are dizzyingly utilized to maximum effect to tell a story which seems as delirious as the protagonist. The main character of the film is named Deerman, whose head is a deer and who recently endured an accident resulting in chronic hallucinations. Deerman has recently lost his job, and in a series of events that led him to become reliant on alcohol, frequently is beaten up as a result of his drunken behaviours. His addiction takes an even worse turn when he stumbles upon a panther-barman-priest who creates a forbidden cocktail for Deerman designed by an ex-boxer named Luginsky that alters his life even further with so-called reality and fantasy dancing in unprecedented ways. A most unique film of fantastical visions you won’t soon forget.

NORTH BY CURRENT (2021) D: Angelo Madsen Minax | USA | 76 MIN + Q&A | CANADIAN PREMIERE | Documentary
WATCH ONLINE Oct 29 – Nov 7 available across Canada
PRERECORDED VIRTUAL Q&A available with the film

After the inconclusive death of his young niece, filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax returns to his rural Michigan hometown to make a film about a broken criminal justice system. Instead, he pivots to excavate the depths of generational addiction, Christian fervor and trans embodiment. Lyrically assembled images, decades of home movies and ethereal narration form an idiosyncratic and poetic undertow that guide a viewer through lifetimes and relationships. Like the relentless Michigan seasons, the meaning of family shifts, as Madsen Minax, his sister and his parents strive tirelessly to accept each other. Poised to incite more internal searching than provide clear statements or easy answers, North By Current dives head-first into the challenges of creating identity, the agony of growing up and the ever-fickle nuances of family.

POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHÉ (2021) D: Celeste Bell, Paul Sng | UK | 96 MIN |Documentary
WATCH ONLINE Oct 29 – Nov 7 available across Canada

Marianne Joan Elliott-Said (aka Poly Styrene) is a punk rock legend. She entered the music business as a rebellious teenager with big dreams and then willed those dreams into reality. As the frontwoman for her band X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene was the first Black woman in the UK to front a successful rock band. She would go on to earn legions of fans by producing defiant songs about consumerism, class, and racial identity.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché looks at the icon’s life and career from the perspective of her daughter, the film’s co-director, Celeste Bell. Bell uses archival footage, electrifying live performances, and her mother’s diary entries to celebrate Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, and Poly Styrene. Narrated by Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga, this intimate portrait of a punk icon offers a candid look at a reluctant public figure who struggled with fame while battling mental illness.

A Virtual Exhibition 
In-site, Incite, & Insight

Rather than experience the festival’s exhibition onsite, this year we experience it “in-site” — in a website, in the digital world, in the virtual. The works in the festival this year have been selected with the intention of being experienced virtually.

The artists bring insight to their experiences of the world having changed, how it continues to change and what this change can offer. This includes our growing awareness around mental health, our relationships with both the physical and digital worlds, and how the works can incite us into action. The exhibiting works investigate these themes and more, providing room to engage with the arts in a time when interacting and experiencing work has been significantly impacted. Through these works, we recognize that we are in the moment, in the current, in the site. For full listing of artists in the exhibit visit

Presented by Project Undertow
Written and directed by Rosa Laborde
Various showtimes from Friday, October 29th to Friday, November 5th at 1025 Queen St. West.

With inspiration from King Lear and multiverse theory, Rosa Laborde’s True follows three sisters hurtled back in time with the unexpected arrival of their estranged father who now lives with Alzheimer’s. The play is a tightly woven, poignant, and piercing look into the nature of memory.  With Maev Beatty, Layne Coleman, Beau Dixon, Ingrid Doucet, and Shannon Taylor.

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.