Fighting against stereotypes with Luminate and the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival


The festivals tackle negative perceptions about aging and mental health respectively

The traditional festival – a condensed blast of hedonism, centred around loud music and a youthful, party atmosphere – has been increasingly replaced by careful curation and a desire within the arts to reach out beyond its usual audiences. The Scottish Mental Health Art and Film Festival and Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival, continue through October across the country with a mixture of workshops, performances, films and discussions, with both events sharing a commitment to encourage debate around important social matters. Luminate is only in its second year, but has already made its presence felt: director Anne Gallacher notes the combination of chosen events, commissioned pieces and the inclusion of projects that already exist all mesh with the festival’s vision for ‘a celebration of our creativity as we age’.

‘Luminate is very much about engaging older audiences and participants,’ Gallacher says. ‘And it is also about challenging stereotypes, and we are keen to bring generations together.’ The performances are far from limited in their appeal. ‘Bringing together people is the only way to challenge the negative stereotypes that may exist around ageing.’

With events from Shetland to the Borders, Gallacher is excited about Luminate’s potential. From film showings (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Straight Story both appear, with their positive representation of older citizens) through exhibitions and lectures (vaudeville entertainer Harry Lauder is remembered at Lanark Library) to professional and community performances, the Luminate programme might begin with an emphasis on the ‘third age', but incorporates the breadth of Scotland’s arts connection to social concerns.

The Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival (SMHAFF) is now in its seventh year. List scribe and film programmer Eddie Harrison has been with SMHAFF since its inception, and is responsible for selecting films that fit within the festival’s remit ‘to highlight mental health issues and banish stigma. We try and make it an accessible thing, with lower ticket prices and across Scotland. It started out as a single weekend in one cinema, but now SMHAFF lasts throughout October. There is pretty much no aspect of the festival I haven’t been involved in, and that is because the ethos interests me.’ Referring to recent tabloid headlines which ‘demonised mental health problems,’ Harrison continues. ‘I like to think of this as being a friendly world and the idea of stigmatising people because at some point they have suffered is a very negative idea. We are really interested in mental health, and that is something everyone has. In a way, we are also celebrating people with strong mental health.’

But Harrison acknowledges that there is another strand, both within the film and theatre programmes, that offers a rare opportunity for people with mental health issues to see their situation explored sympathetically in art. Both theatre and film have a bad reputation for using the ‘mad character’ as a plot point or a dangerous outsider. ‘It astonishes me that this paradigm, which seems to be based around 1962, is still trotted out. So we won’t show films that have a negative stereotype: we want to set an example, to rebalance things with the films that we show.’

Like Luminate, SMHAFF’s programme is astonishingly diverse, and the post-event discussions take the issues seriously and identify culture not as an easy blast of entertainment but as part of society’s ongoing dialogue. The festivals do have plenty of fun: SMHAFF has Barrowland Ballet’s double bill of Tiger Tale, while Luminate has called back the Fringe First-winning Translunar Paradise, a play without words that explores grief and longing through startling physical theatre. Both festivals focus attention on the consequence and context of art that is bracing and they demand attention by reaching out to include communities in their different visions.

SMHAFF runs until Sat 26 Oct; and Luminate runs until Thu 31 Oct.

The Straight Story

  • 4 stars
  • 1999
  • US
  • 1h 51min
  • U
  • Directed by: David Lynch
  • Written by: John E Roach, Mary Sweeney
  • Cast: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton

Midwestern old timer Alvin Straight is hell-bent on being reunited with his estranged, terminally ill brother so he takes to the road aboard his motorised lawnmower. Farnsworth's lead performance is honest, heartfelt and credible, while Lynch maintains his fascination with the inherent strangeness of small towns and lost…

Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival

One of Scotland’s most diverse and inclusive cultural events, combining high quality artistic events with extensive community-led programming and a social justice agenda.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

  • 2 stars
  • 2011
  • UK
  • 1h 58min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: John Madden
  • Written by: Ol Parker
  • Cast: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson
  • UK release: 24 February 2012

Despite an irresistible army of pension-age talent including Dench, Smith and Wilkinson, all on excellent form, this story about a group of unconnected British retirees who come to the titular hotel in Jaipur and find resolution for their various issues and challenges, feels too calculated to offer anything more than…

Luminate Festival

Luminate celebrates our creative lives as we age by offering a wide range of inspirational arts activities with, by and for older people, as well as creative events bringing generations together. Hundreds of events take place nationwide. Previously the festival was held annually in October, but 2019 marks the beginning of…

Translunar Paradise

Theatre Ad Infinitum's critically acclaimed physical piece, performed in mask, about an old man's inconsolable grief when his wife dies.