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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

PSU Psych Professor Tackles Documentary on Oregon State Hospital

Posted by Alex Zielinski on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 4:28 PM

What comes to mind when you envision a documentary on Oregon's hospital for the criminally insane? Something between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and a scandalous expose on cruel and unusual procedures on terrorizing crazy people?

That's right. A little blown out of proportion. These assumptions are included in what Portland State University psychology professor Jan Haaken hopes to negate in her recent documentary Guilty Except for Insanity. In the film , Haaken focuses on the humanity within the walls of Oregon State Hospital and the madness found outside in the hands of policy makers and rulings. The discussion-provoking piece aims to illustrate the backwards nature of an American system where you must commit a crime to receive psychiatric help.

Catch the film at Cinema 21 (616 NW 21st Ave) Oct. 9 -11. More info here.

Here's the trailer:


I gave Haaken a call to find out more.

ALEX ZIELINSKI: Have you always been interested in documentary making?
JAN HAAKEN: No, I've only been doing documentary work for the last decade. I'm just a psychology teacher using another medium to bring complex ideas and images into the public eye. But I have been interested in the de-institutional movement as an activist since the 70s.

AZ: What sparked the idea to create this film?
HAAKEN: It began with a question in my Gender and Madness class — a student asked why the hospital had such a constipated system, making it hard to get in and hard to get out. So we went on a field trip! But it was more of an outside issue. It seemed like society had an irrational fear of people leaving the hospital. I wanted to target that.

AZ: How does your film counter that idea?

HAAKEN: I try to draw out the humanity of people in the hospital, both patients and staff. There is a prejudice against both of them. The story is told through the eyes of these characters.

AZ: Did you find it easy to talk with the patients?
HAAKEN: There were probably ten times more patients who wanted to be in the film than I could include. Each patient was signed off by their lawyer and doctor to work with me. It was all very collaborative — not a shoot and run kind of thing.

AZ: What about the management?
HAAKEN: What happens with administrative people is that you get their canned wrap, nothing raw or real. I tried to focus less on them and more on people willing to share their stories.

AZ: What was the most challenging aspect of the project?
HAAKEN: Getting into the hospital. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to meet with each patient. At first the hospital was wary, but I think they understood that this wasn't an expose on them. More like an untold story. I think this is the only documentary of a state psychiatric hospital that has been commercially distributed.

AZ: What kind of response are you hoping to see?
HAAKEN: There are already a lot of meaningful de-institutionalizing reforms underway, I'd like to think that my film can be part of that.

AZ: Any future projects on the horizon?
HAAKEN: I just finished filming a documentary titled Mind Zone in Afghanistan this summer. It's on therapists' work in the military. This was another challenge to be allowed in.

AZ: It seems like you've faced a lot of road blocks in your film work. What keeps you keepin' on?

HAAKEN: It's probably something neurotic! I like to focus on the people on the margins of society, cut out from view. A lot of people have a superficial idea about how these groups function. I want to change that.

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