DIR: Alan Gilsenan
Alan Gilsenan’s latest documentary feature, Meetings With Ivor, explores the dynamic and controversial career of Ivor Browne, one of Ireland’s most anti-establishment and progressive psychiatrists. Populated by a cast of some of Ireland’s most celebrated, and infamous, artists, including Tommy Tiernan, Nell McCafferty and Sebastian Barry, Meetings With Ivor is at once personal and national in its visionary scope of the Irish psychological and cultural landscape.
Meetings With Ivor is as cinematically striking and experimental as it is thematically pertinent. Deftly structured in both form and editing, the film negotiates the fraught arena of mental health and its concomitant exposure and representation in mainstream media with a real ethical honesty and transparency. The visual experimentalism of the film, which places Ivor in split screen opposition to the various patients and friends who are shown throughout, offers a visual field that is at once equalising in its representation of the doctor-patient divide (although this binary definition is strongly eluded in Ivor’s ethos), as well as emotionally distancing for the audience, who are placed in a position of active engagement and reflection. The film’s stylisation refuses to dictate the audience’s emotional responses to Ivor and his subjects; they are literally placed within a blank white frame, side-by-side, creating a continuous and fluid sense of equal interaction that denies mediation by a manipulating cinematic eye.
In a particularly veracious scene, Nell McCafferty turns the hierarchies of talk therapy on their head, and begins to critique and analyse Ivor in what becomes a humorous inversion of the traditional relationship between omniscient doctor and vulnerable patient. Ivor’s willingness to engage with this inversion, his playfulness and openness to McCafferty’s highly personal, albeit jovial assault, reveals many facets of his personal and professional character. Ivor admits at several points throughout the documentary that he was complicit first hand in a litany of psychiatric atrocities committed upon patients in Ireland, including asylum institutionalisation, electric shock therapy and lobotomy procedures. His willingness to speak about his involvement in the dark past of Ireland’s negotiation of mental illness, as well as his criticism of its present shortfalls, confirms him as a man committed first and foremost to his patients and their recovery over any professional or institutional affiliations. He mischievously recalls his experiments with LSD in California, and bringing marijuana back from the US to grow in his home in Ireland. He also admits to his personal shortcomings as a father, the breakdown of his marriage and his second partner, continually situating himself within a dialogue of openness, reflection and humbleness.
We see Ivor alone in many visually minimalist scenes in meditative contemplation, seated on a chair in the centre of an enormous and empty white-washed room. The details and contours of his face are revealed in striking close ups that show a man aged, vibrantly resilient and wholly human. He admits toward the film’s close that he has always thought that he resembles a monkey. Ivor’s boyish charm and playfulness, his humility and honesty, continually inflect and offset what is at times a deeply harrowing insight into mental illness in Irish society. The cultural, social and generational divides that Ivor’s career traverses speak of a man whose unconventional medical practices and beliefs are unconditionally grounded in the human. He has asserted that ‘the future of mental health must lie in the empowerment of the person,’ something that our culture and our health legislation continue to belie. We need more practitioners like Ivor, and we need more films like this.
Meetings With Ivor is released 10th February 2017