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A Revolutionary Psychiatrist – Nise – The Heart of Madness
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10/27 Press Conference featuring “Nise – The Heart of Madness” from Competition Section
A Revolutionary Psychiatrist – Nise – The Heart of Madness


©2015 TIFF

Nise – The Heart of Madness follows the true-life struggles of Nise da Silveira, the revolutionary psychiatrist who brought new ideas of occupational and art therapy to the mental health care system in Brazil. Her ideas and methods, heavily influence by Carl Jung, allowed patients to express themselves through painting a sculpture. Her work was met with skepticism and outright hostility by the male dominated establishment who stuck the barbaric – an ineffectual – methods of lobotomy and electro-shock therapy. Director Roberto Berliner has crafted a moving dramatization of a few years of her life, when her new therapeutic methods were put to the test and how she succeeded in her endeavors. Berliner and his producer Rodrigo Letier came to the Tokyo International Film Festival, where their film is playing in the Competition section.
Berliner is soft spoken, but passionate about his film practice and its social function. He began by saying, “It’s very important for us to show our films to different people in different places. Making films takes our lives, the time that we have. Then we spend a lot of time thinking film, sleeping less, spending less time with our families. And I think that I try to make films that matter.”
Letier explained how the film came into being.
“We first started 13 years ago with the idea of making a film based on the life of Nise. We have a friend who wrote a book about her, with different texts from people who lived with her, who studied with her, who worked with her. He made a book with acts written by those people and then we had the idea of making a film which TvZero is a production company that we run together. We produce lots of documentaries. Roberto is a documentary filmmaker as well. The first idea was to make a documentary about her. But then we realized that this story was so important and so relevant that we had the idea of making a fiction film about it. She lived from 1905 until 1999. She died when she was 94. So, it was a long life, a long story. We took us a long time to decide which moment of her life to tell. So, that’s why it took so long to make the film. The time it took was important for us and for Roberto to know exactly how to tell the story, to go to the hospital, to rehearse, to find the sensitive touch of telling this sensitive story.”
Berliner filled in with more details of the genesis of the film, “In the beginning, the project started with a guy, Bernardo, who studied with her. He used to read for her, because at that time she had eye problems. And he used to stay with her. Nise’s house was open for everybody that wanted to study. She had a study group. Everybody wanted to go there. The door was open. And this guy went there once, and he stayed there for years and years. He was a young journalist at that time. And during that time, he was writing small stuff about her – how she acted, the things that she used to say, very important things, small things, but very significant to understand her character, her personality.”
He added, “His brother, André Horta would direct this film. And we would produce it. He’s the director of photography for the film. But at some moment he thought that the film was too big for him and he abandoned the project. And then there was no director to do it. And I thought that this project is so important that this film should be done. I started to study, 11 years ago to research all people that worked with her and that’s it. It changed our lives.”
The process of making the film involved discovering the scope and depth of Nise’s work.
Berliner explained, “We went to the hospital [where she worked]. There’s a place in the hospital with all these pieces of art. And in this place there are all her stuff and there are 350,000 pieces of art that the patients made. The director of the hospital was a key person in making this film. When the script was done we all went to the hospital, the crew and the actors and again we studied each piece of art. One of the keys of her work was the trajectory of each [patient] through art. She used to force people to put the date and their name [on their artwork] to understand what’s going on.”
Letier added, “Her work is linked to several subjects – psychiatry, art, politics – she was very political. The beginning of the film is in 1944. Years before she was in prison, accused of being communist. We had to study different subjects to understand the whole of her work.”
Berliner continued with a heartfelt testimony.
“There is something special with this woman. And I used to say that the world changed a little bit with some people. And I think she was one of them. She went to a very small, very poor place. She used to say, ‘one of the worst places in the world.’ Where people used to die, where people were not cared for. And she started to work with people nobody cared about. Nobody used to look at them. That’s probably where I became interested in her. Because I think people are people, and sometimes we don’t see some people that are not well dressed or clean or maybe not normal.”
In the film, we see Nise working wonders with patients who were once considered incurable. Her courageous methods allow her charges to regain dignity, build some emotional stability, and most importantly, express their feeling by producing some great art. As the story progresses, we see her coming up against a regressive medical establishment, which tries to undo all her hard work. The film ends with an art critic putting on a very well received exhibition of the patients’ artwork, not only because of the quality of the work, but as a tool to publicize Nise’s work and build support for it.
As Berliner explains, “People wanted to kill her – in the hospital. They used to throw rocks [at her] with messages [saying] that we will kill you. And this exhibition was the only way out that she had to survive. It was to put the media to work for her. And we had to show how difficult it was, because I think she never gave up, even a little.”
[Nicholas Vroman]

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KEIRIN.JPThe 28th Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
27th Tokyo International Film Festival(2014)