This documentary presents a pastiche of illness narratives, the stories of seven women (including the filmmaker and the associate producer) who have struggled with mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder. Intercut with the interviews are reenactments of key events in the women? lives; vivid depictions of sometimes frightening, sometimes exhilarating mental states experienced by the women; films and still photographs from the womens' childhoods, and archival film footage. In the process of exploring their illnesses and recoveries, the women discuss experiences that hurt them (rape, misdiagnoses, racism) as well as those that helped them heal (creativity, caring, therapists, and spirituality).


While stories of sadness, loss, and often horrific abuse are recounted in this documentary, ultimately the larger themes are courage and resilience. The film in no way slaps a smiley face on its subjects'v experiences, but it shows the women as survivors and as---perhaps surprisingly, particularly for some students--"normal" people. Their humor and honesty and their unwillingness to be defined by a diagnosis prove that there is no such group as "the mentally ill"--there is only an incredibly diverse group of complex people with rich lives who suffer from mental illness.

Allie Light, the filmmaker who discusses on camera her own struggle with depression, presents the range of psychiatric disorders, from "simple" unipolar depression to schizophrenia. She also confronts the ambivalence some sufferers feel about their illness; Hannah, whose bipolar disorder has been stabilized by lithium, misses her manic states, in which she felt "intensely alive."

The movie's associate producer, Karen Wong, was raped and murdered before the completion of the documentary, and this shocking and awful event is movingly addressed by Light near the end of the film. But she leaves us with the image of Deedee, who symbolically enacts her fantasy of becoming a fish by walking, fully dressed, suitcase in hand, into the sea--a hopeful and brave conclusion.

Editor’s Note: As a follow-up to the film, it is worth noting that, at this writing, the surviving participants are leading satisfying, productive lives.


The film won the Freedom of Expression Award, Sundance Film Festival in 1994 and a National Emmy Award in 1995.

Primary Source

Can be rented or purchased from Women Make Movies, Inc. E-mail:; phone: 212-925-0600.