Stage Door News

Toronto: Workman Arts presents Rendezvous with Madness 2021 October 28-November 7

Thursday, October 7, 2021

As the world continues to reel from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the importance of mental health awareness into stark relief, Workman Arts is today announcing the full line-up for their 29th edition of the Rendezvous With Madness Festival – 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 – 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, extending the uniquely meaningful conversations that define Rendezvous With Madness. 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 Taylor. The 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.

"Our festival image for 2021 features balloon letters that spell "normal," floating off into the sky," comments Workman Arts Executive Artistic Director Kelly Straughan. "The image speaks to our current moment in time as we collectively reimagine the very idea of "normal," as it pertains to mental health, social expectations and structures that don't make room for the full spectrum of humanity."

Straughan continues, "The pandemic continues to underline the importance of mental health awareness. Festivals like Rendezvous With Madness break down stigma and create space for connection and understanding, and artists continue to offer critical windows onto human experience and help us make sense of our changing world."

Just a year shy of an incredible 30-years of showcasing film, visual art, and performance that illuminate the complex narratives of the human mind and heart, Rendezvous With Madness 2021 sets its tone with their Opening Nightpresentation of the acclaimed documentary KÍMMAPIIYIPITSSINI: THE MEANING OF EMPATHY from widely acclaimed director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.

"KÍMMAPIIYIPITSSINI: THE MEANING OF EMPATHY 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."

Personal storytelling is visible throughout the program, with many filmmakers from around the globe boldly turning the lens towards their own lived experiences. For example, 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 – Cuthand has exhibited her film and video work at Berlinale Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Images Festival, ImagineNative and more, and is a Whitney Biennale 2019 artist. Award-winning documentary ANNY (Best Film, Dokfest Munich) 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 the New York Film Festival Albert Maysles Documentary Director award-winner 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, which first bowed at the Berlinale Film Festival, 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.

The Rendezvous With Madness Festival is committed to values of inclusivity and accessibility for all guests, staff, volunteers, and artists. In line with Rendezvous' commitment to being trauma-informed, each program will offer an Active Listener, either on-site or virtually, to help provide self-care and emotional support. Information for accessing support will be available on the website.

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. To learn more about accessibility initiatives at Rendezvous visit

Tickets for Rendezvous With Madness events will be available for online booking beginning Friday, October 8 at 10am. 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.