An engrossing closeup look at four criminally violent inmates at Ottawa's Brockville Mental Health Centre.
Multiple Emmy-winning Canadian documentary veteran John Kastner offers a companion piece to his “NCR: Not Criminally Responsible” with “Out of Mind, Out of Sight.” Where the 2013 film followed one patient’s difficult readjustment to society after release from Ottawa’s Brockville Mental Health Centre, this latest focuses on the personalities and care of four criminally violent inmates still residing at said forensic psychiatric hospital. This engrossing closeup look at people hardly in control of their emotions or actions has been presold to local network TVO for a May 7 broadcast bow, and could attract further smallscreen sales as it travels the festival circuit.
The unit in question is home to 59 patients who have committed crimes but were judged mentally unfit, and thus were sent here rather than to a standard penal institution. What Kastner’s two male and two female protagonists have in common is a diagnosis of some type of schizophrenia, and rehabilitation toward a goal of re-entering society. But otherwise, they are wildly different in every respect.
The most overtly antisocial is ungainly, 39-year-old Carole Seguin, who is estranged from her family and is here on multiple assault charges (including attacking a police officer). She has great trouble differentiating between hallucinations and reality (at one point she states as fact, “They’re talking about me on the TV”), gets subtitles for her often mumbly speech, has punched holes through solid hallway walls, and appears unlikely to ever lead a life fully outside institutional bounds.
Seguin takes an ominous dislike to the much younger Justine Winder. With a perpetual troublemaker’s malevolent grin, Winder can hardly stop herself from provoking attention-getting conflict, just as she’s been unable to resist cutting and other forms of self-abuse in the past. When Justine has a fling with Seguin’s “boyfriend,” Sal Beninato, the two women appear headed toward a collision. We don’t learn much else about Beninato, a nervous talker and chain smoker who clearly doesn’t like being alone for even a moment, but whose own family doesn’t want him back.
The most heartbreaking case here is that of our initial onscreen guide to the unit, Michael Stewart, a presentable, shyly ingratiating man in his early 30s who appears “normal.” By all accounts a popular, well-adjusted boy growing up, he unsurprisingly relates better to the staff here than to his more conspicuously damaged fellow patients. Yet some years ago, amid escalating signs of psychological distress, he’d beaten his mother to death.
One medical authority notes that for many such patients, proper diagnosis and medication after they reach a crime-inducing crisis point mean that only then do they awaken to the full horror of what they’ve done — and they can’t forgive themselves for it. Though his understanding siblings and father are very supportive, Stewart (who’s on anti-psychotics now) is so consumed by shame that he resists re-entering society, feeling the whole world knows his terrible guilt.
Staff members matter-of-factly lay out the hazards of their work, complete with a fortified “panic room”-like station they barricade themselves in whenever a hostile patient seems about to lash out physically. Two nurses are borderline-inappropriately hilarious as they recount how much worse female inmates are to deal with (although conversely, the men tend commit more violence “on the outside”), and how often their charges manage sexual relations with one another despite various attempts to minimize their opportunities.
Shot over 18 months, the pic demonstrates the high degree of access and trust Kastner & Co. achieved at Brockville, despite the facility’s understandable wariness toward any media attention. The TV-ready feature is workmanlike in aesthetic terms, but its cogency and emotional impact speak to sharp editorial assembly of doubtless voluminous raw footage.