Directed with great skill and compassion is the ABC’s startling three-part Changing Minds: The Inside Story, a key component of Mental As, a week of programming across TV, radio and online on mental illness, health and wellbeing. In this second season of the show, producer Jenni Wilks and director Cian O’Clery take us on a rather fantastical journey with a group of young mentally ill patients on their road to recovery in the locked mental health units of Sydney’s Campbelltown Hospital. The 10 patients include 20-year-old Daniel, whose cannabis addiction masks psychotic symptoms; Taileah, a recently graduated 20-year-old nurse whose stress manifests in distressing auditory hallucinations; 24-year-old Nathan, whose schizophrenia allows him to converse with Hitler and Muhammad Ali; and Fabrice, a 36-year-old barrister’s son with persecutory delusions about demons and devils.
They all generously agreed to be filmed during the acute phases of their illnesses, their stories not related retrospectively but allowed to unfold in crisis, a serendipitous process hardly within the norms of production schedules and crew call sheets. It meant there was no guarantee patients would continue to consent as they became increasingly in touch with their real selves — and, as O’Clery says, no certainty existed that the stories found would be engaging to an audience. Well, they certainly are. This series is not only informative and intensely moving at times, if often uncomfortable viewing, it’s also philosophically profound and often very funny as taboos and stigmas about mental illness are confronted and challenged. (For example: mental illness is not a life sentence; not all mental illnesses are the same; mentally ill people are not violent; and some cultural groups are no more likely than others to experience it.)
O’Clery and his director of photography, Simon Morris, filmed the series in a highly cinematic fashion using prime lenses on large sensor cameras, giving the images a feature-film look with a shallow depth of field, causing distractions to melt away, and at times it looks quite sensual. “What I didn’t want was for the series to look ‘raw and gritty’ ”, the director says. “I think that by doing our best to make it look beautiful, it helps present people and their stories in a sensitive and gentle way.”
Bravo to all involved especially the charming and witty Mark Cross, the psychiatrist at the centre of this absorbing character-driven observational series.