“Canvas” tackles issues of mental illness at Ebertfest

By April Dahlquist

With popcorn popping, a live organ player playing and ticket holders arguing squatter rights, The Virginia Theater in Champaign was in full swing Thursday night for the 10th Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival. The only person missing was Roger Ebert.

“It’s unsafe to travel with the hip fracture and he needed to put his health first,” said wife Chaz Ebert.

Joseph Greco’s “Canvas” starring Joey Pantoliano and Marcia Gay Harden was Ebert’s pick for the feature film Thursday. The movie focused on the struggles a man and his son experience while his wife is suffering from a mental illness.

“This subject matter is rarely seen,” said alum Karol Ng. “Usually you see movies making fun of schizophrenia, like ‘Me, Myself and Irene,’ so this is a pretty big deal for a movie to get such an accurate representation.”

Greco wrote this independent film as part of a childhood experience, as his mom was mentally ill. Pantoliano is the president of the No Kidding, Me Too organization where the goal is to remove the stigma of mental illness.

“We want to have the brain have equal rights as the kidney as the heart,” said Pantoliano. “If Chris’ mom had breast cancer in the movie instead of schizophrenia, we wouldn’t even have a movie.”

The actors worked beforehand with the mentally ill in order to accurately portray and interact with people afflicted with a mental illness for the movie. All the artwork seen in the movie, mainly the canvases which patched the sail, were created by mentally ill people.

“Mentally ill people can be characterized as nutty when they are just wired differently. They see the world differently,” said Urbana resident Heidi Weatherford. “Some of the most creative people are mentally ill.”

Though Greco went through many hurdles to have the film made, such as three hurricanes hitting Florida when they wanted to film, trouble finding a leading actress and budget problems, the team eventually was able to film the movie in 27 days with the same script Greco originally wanted.

In order for the audience to fully appreciate the festival, Ebert has been known to pick a diverse group of movies either for their caliber of film or subject matter, said Marianne Krajacic, who travels from Chicago to attend the festival.

“I’m so glad that mental illness is coming out of the closet. It’s long been over do,” said Krajacic. “Robert Ebert is a genius for picking this film.”