Susan Smiley

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Out of the Shadow

Smiley, Susan

Last Updated: Jan-30-2006
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


The documentary film opens with the filmmaker, Susan Smiley, in search of her mother, Millie, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and who, once again, has disappeared into the woefully inadequate public health care system of middle America. Through old photographs and home movies, interviews with family members and health care professionals, and voice-over and direct narration by Smiley herself, the film chronicles the descent of a young, beautiful woman in her twenties into severe and chronic mental illness.

When Millie’s marriage to their father fails, Susan and her younger sister, Tina, are essentially abandoned to endure severe physical and emotional abuse by their mother. As the years unfold, Millie eventually loses her home and embarks on a journey of evictions, arrests, hospitalizations, and homelessness. At what seems to be Millie’s lowest point, warehoused in a nursing home where she is angrily refusing to take any medication, her daughters intervene, petition for guardianship, and navigate the system on behalf of their mother.

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