“King’s Park”: Stories from an American Mental Institution

On June 21, 1967, at the age of 17, Lucy Winer was committed to the female violent ward of Kings Park State Hospital following a series of failed suicide attempts. Over 30 years later, now a veteran documentary filmmaker, Lucy returns to Kings Park for the first time since her discharge. Her journey back sparks a decade-long effort to face her past and learn the story of the now abandoned institution that once held her captive. Her meetings with other former patients, their families, and the hospital staff reveal the painful legacy of our state hospital system and the crisis left by its demise.

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  1. Who has seen the film? With NAMI and APA and other institutions screening the film, I’d like to know if someone writing for madinamerica has seen the film from beginning to end and can offer a critical review so folks know whether we should screen it in our rethinking psychiatry communities or not. Does the documentary end with meds as the solution? Does it take a stance on forced treatment?

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  2. Let me speak to your question at some length–but I’ll tell you up front that my final recommendation is, Show this film to anyone and everyone you can. It’s truly astounding.

    Now, to back up.

    I’ve known Lucy Winer and Karen Eaton for over twenty years, and Lucy talked with me often and long when she was undertaking the personal pilgrimage that led to the film. (When she turned fifty, she was taken with a need to look into having been hopsitalized in her teens, to try to gain access to her records and to make sense of what that experience had been for her.) So I knew about the film before it was a film, and I’ve known of its development through the years.

    I visited Karen in New York in May–Lucy was away, screening the film somewhere–and Karen gave me a copy of the piece.

    I didn’t rush home to watch it. I had some trepidation. As Lucy will tell you, I don’t lie to my friends–though I hope I’m generally polite and diplomatic–and I had some concerns about whether I was going to be happy with the outcome. Like you, I was puzzled that NAMI and others within the psychiatric mainstream seemed to embrace the movie. If I hated the movie, or felt that Lucy and Karen had somehow drunk the Koolaid, I was not looking forward to having to communicate with them about it.

    Finally, two weeks ago I scheduled a Sunday morning to watch “Kings Park.” It blew me away. If this is not the best film Lucy’s ever done, it’s right at the top.

    Lucy’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. One way her absolute brilliance shows–or doesn’t show–itself is her ability to say things by not saying them, to make her points by juxtaposing material that–if the viewer is paying attention–makes those points clear to those willing to see them without tipping her hand to, or infuriating, those who are too blind to see.

    In “Kings Park,” Lucy is trying to make sense of her own experience, and that effort leads her to broader issues. She never pretends to expertise she does not have, nor does she jump on any bandwagons. She addresses the complexity of questions about care for severe distress directly and concretely–and very personally. And with her characristic style of speaking by what she does not directly say, letting the material and its manner of presentation speak for itself.

    I think this is brilliant, moving work.

    Hope that helps.

    Bob Fancher

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