‘WE never really find out what the festival will be until it has happened, because we have very little creative control over a lot of it, particularly in relation to the theme. You find out what your theme means when everybody responds to it.”

The Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival (SMHAFF), on the theme of revolution, runs throughout Scotland, with around 180 events between the opening event at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow on Saturday October 4, to October 22.

I caught up with festival director, Andrew Eaton-Lewis as he prepares to plan for their revolution beginning at that launch in the CCA entitled Manifesto – well, you might need one in a revolution.

I was keen to know what lay ahead beyond the planning stage, but first – why revolution?

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“Revolution appeared, and everyone agreed on it quite quickly,” Eaton-Lewis says.

“ It was a time when the economy was in trouble and during, I think, Liz Truss’s government. It is going to be really interesting to see how that looks one year on.”

The theme is an eclectic emerging influence, as Eaton-Lewis explains: “You can make political change by showing the impact on an individual. If you show somebody’s personal experience that can be really powerful. For the most part that is what we do – give people a platform to tell their stories of trauma, struggle, poverty.

“Sharing that can be a very powerful experience. A revolutionary act can be just taking a step in your own life to get help or to help someone else.”

The revolution may not be on the streets, but it is certainly on its way with plenty of examples of how revolutionary acts manifest themselves, as he explains about the collective Hen Hoose, performing at the opening event. “What they are doing is revolutionary – a mutually supportive, all-female/non-binary group who lift each other up, are supportive to each other in a very collective enterprise in a quite ruthless industry. That is, in itself, very revolutionary.”

Running alongside the events in buildings is the writing competition: “The writing competition is where we find out what our festival is all about. Quite often you get responses that you do not expect.

“There is a mix of established writers and people who have never been published before, never written before but have something to say. To have that work published alongside some very established writers, that’s a very powerful thing.”

There are also plenty of surprises and advice, not least due to Covid. SMHAFF had to cancel events, but what emerged was very welcome.

“We diverted cash from venue costs to artists’ commissions,” Eaton-Lewis says.

“We got this huge amount of applications from people who had never been involved in the festival before. Before Covid there were many, many people isolated for all kinds of reasons, but their voices were on the margins. Suddenly more people were aware that these folk existed.

“We wanted to hear from people who were isolated before Covid because these are the people who have insight and experience that can teach everybody who is suddenly stuck in their home what that’s like and how to adapt to that and what the impact of that is.

“We got some really powerful work coming out of that, particularly from disabled artists.”

They have continued those online commissions.

Of other events, Eaton-Lewis is expansive, especially the performance by Jamie Bolland: “The performance is about emergency services, especially the police, being used to respond to someone having a mental health crisis which is problematic for all kinds of reasons. Jamie shall be quite provocative.”

Then there is May Contain Nuts by Skye Lonergan, “about her father’s mental ill health and a BBC commissioner challenging if she was depicting it accurately”.

The festival director adds: “It raises that perennial question of how we write about mental health and who is allowed to write about mental health. Their concern was of stigmatisation, but she was writing from exactly her experience of an episode where someone was behaving in a very strange sort of way as people who are having a mental health crisis often do.”

Eaton-Lewis is very quick to point out the festival’s own approach: “One of the things we try to avoid in the festival is policing the way people write or talk about their mental health. There is certain language that the Mental Health Foundation would use itself which we try not to impose on the artists who are doing it from their own experience.

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“There is no wrong way to talk or create work about your own mental health experience.”

It’s a very democratically focused festival, as Eaton-Lewis goes on to explain: ”It is not necessarily curated by us, the central team. A little bit of our role is curatorial like the Manifesto event.

“We have this team of regional co-ordinators all over the country. People’s experience of the SMHAFF will be very local, will be very specific.”

Or, to put it another way, “without getting too fancy about it, the whole festival is a work of art”. And it is coming to you from October 4 to 22.