Jan Derbyshire talks Sanity for Beginners at WAM Festival

The Wide Angle Media Festival, the inaugural Vancouver disability media festival, opens today through Sunday.  Among the commissioned shorts is Sanity For Beginners written and directed by Vancouver lesbian Jan Derbyshire.  We caught up with Jan to find out more about her film and the Festival.

Tell us about Sanity for Beginners – what is it about?

Sanity for Beginners tells the story of a new director’s first day a day on the set of a cable TV show called “Mental Illness Beyond Today”. Thematically it’s asking questions about how we frame ideas of sane and insane.

It is billed as a “comic docu-fantasy” – can you explain?

Well, the comic part is of course, because I’m hoping it’s funny. The docu-fantasy is because [it is] a weird hybrid between a lot of facts, some personal stories and some made up stuff. It’s like I worked so hard at imagining what might happen I think it really did.

Why the funny take on a serious subject?

Because laughter opens us up, we suck in more air, that goes to our brains and then when we hear a new idea there might actually be room to think about it.

The film explores the “constantly expanding use of prescription drugs” – are you a proponent
or an opponent?

I think there is a time and a place for prescription drugs but I would feel a lot better if drug companies were non-profit societies and we could be sure we only use the drugs we need not the ones that make prescription drug companies some of the biggest money makers in the world. But then again I have been certified crazy more than once so what would I know.

Jan Derbyshire and James Fagan Tait in Sanity For Beginners.  Photo by Gregory Crow.
Jan Derbyshire and James Fagan Tait in Sanity For Beginners.  Photo by Gregory Crow.

I understand it is a commissioned piece – how did that come about?

Kickstart Disability Arts called for submissions from artists who work with a disability or two or three and five were chosen. I was lucky enough to be one of them. I also got a FAP grant from the NFB which really helped a lot.

How important are festivals like WAM to help get stories about disabilities out?

Totally important. Disability art is kind of like where aboriginal art was a decade ago when they started organizing around the idea of “nothing about us without us”. There is a lot of fascination and about disabilities from the outside looking in, so we desperately need these missing stories from the perspective of the real deals.

You’ve been dealing with your own bi-polar disorder for a number of years – any new words of advice for others?

In a nut shell … I had to find a way to frame the workings of my own unique mind outside the parameters of illness and work to accept my strengths and limitations and to give up the idea of a quick fix.

Last we chatted you were performing your show Funny In The Head – why have chosen film for this particular project?

I wanted to express some ideas visually that could only be done on film and I wanted to try and reach another kind of audience.

You also appear in the City of Vancouver 2012 Remarkable Women poster series. How much of an
honour is that for you?

This whole Remarkable Woman thing was totally unexpected and wonderful. All 15 of this year’s Remarkable women met at an event on March 8th. It was the best International Women’s Day ever.

What’s next for Jan?

I’m doing an artist/community collaboration in Toronto with Disability Artists called Queen Street (Car)tography. Also moving into production with the multimedia production B Side- Seldom told tales of the Hoped and Suicidal. I’ll be on the boards again this summer in my own play Turkey In The Woods at this year’s Queer Arts Festival. Morgan Brayton is also in that one and James Fagan Tait will be directing.

Wide Angle Media Festival (WAM)
Roundhouse Community Centre
22 – 25 March 2012

Kickstart Arts presents the Wide Angle Media Festival (WAM), the inaugural disability media festival featuring commissioned shorts, international films and workshops. Visit http://wideanglemedia.ca for tickets and information.

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