There is Hollywood's too-perfect version of mental illness--"Ordinary People," "Rain Man," "A Beautiful Mind." And then there's the raw stuff of "West 47th Street," a documentary airing this week and next on public-television stations nation-wide (check local listings at pbs.org/pov/pov2003/west47thstreet). Filming for three years, producers Bill Lichtenstein (who has battled manic depression himself) and June Peoples follow four residents of a New York City rehab house as they struggle with joblessness, anger, drugs--or the internal voices of schizophrenia. Shot in the tradition of cinema verite (straight dialogue, no script), the film offers a powerful lens into the world of serious mental illness. Despite their obvious demons, the four subjects are on a quest for dignity and satisfaction in their lives. They shout, they cry, they laugh--you feel their suffering, but also their moments of joy. The film debuts at a time when the country's mental-health system is under fire. A recent presidential commission called it "fragmented, disconnected and often inadequate." For those battling mental illness, better services are critical. So is respect. As the film's Frances Olivero puts it: "I'm just trying to be accepted as one more person living on the planet."
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