in the real

Between 2012 and 2015, filmmaker and psychoanalyst Conor McCormack documented the Bristol Hearing Voices Network – a self-help group for people who hear voices and have other unusual experiences.

The result of this collaboration is in the real, a 59 min observational documentary film which goes right to the heart of the voice-hearing experience. Who, or what, are the voices that only these men can hear? What do they say and what do they mean? And how does hearing voices transform their sense of self and world?

You can learn more about the film and watch a short trailer below.

“The film is like a jewel that you need to hold up to the light to see it sparkle. It is rich with the lives of ordinary people leading a life that is far from ordinary and can be mysterious. It is about a struggle to make sense of the unusual and a desire to be understood.”

Errol

Bristol Hearing Voices Network

About the film

Filmed over two years in collaboration with the Bristol Hearing Voices Network, a self-help group for people who hear voices, in the real is a 59min observational documentary film which goes to the heart of the voice-hearing experience. Who, or what, are the voices that only these men can hear? What do they say and what do they mean? And how does hearing voices transform their sense of self and world?

Our guides for this journey are the voice-hearers themselves. From outpatient clinic to riverside, bedsit to park bench, in the real offers a rare insight into the inner logic of each character’s world through the intimate moments of the everyday. By exploring the ways voice-hearers negotiate the complex deadlocks of psychosis and help each other to make sense of their unusual experiences, the film shows how, contrary to popular misconception, hearing voices can play a positive, creative and stabilising role in people’s lives.

These are stories of resilience and survival, of loss and love, of the creation of a world outside the mainstream, a place where one can remain open to all kinds of human experience. They are powerfully emotive stories exploring the boundaries of human subjectivity, taking the viewer to a place where the available mental health discourses start to break down. In telling these stories, in the real will lead viewers to ask new questions about the nature and reality of mental health and illness.

Trainee Clinical Psychologist Lois Arkley’s review of the UK launch of in the real, which took place at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle upon Tyne on 14 July 2015, can be found here.

About the filmmaker

Conor McCormack is a director and writer known for his powerful, socially engaged filmmaking, including the BIFA nominated documentary Christmas with Dad and the West Bank based docudrama Seven Stones.  In 2011 he approached the Bristol Hearing Voices Network with a view to undertaking a film project that would help him learn more about experiences of voice hearing. The results of this fruitful collaboration are a Radio 4 drama, The Shining Heart, transmitted in May 2014 as part of the stations Original British Dramatists season, and in the real.

Conor worked on in the real on his own and in his own time for the first 18 months of the production. Then, after some sequences from the film were screened at Hearing Voices group meeting, the Bristol NHS Care Commissioning Group, recognising the value of the project, stepped in with some funding assistance. Ultimately it was the support, financial and creative, of Durham University’s Hearing the Voice that brought this unique project to fruition. The research team were thrilled to discover such a remarkable representation of the voice-hearing experience: strange and wonderful, intimate and emotionally affecting, it was also a powerful documentation of one of the project’s key areas of research – the phenomenology of voice-hearing.

Bristol Hearing Voices Network

The Bristol Hearing Voices Network aims to promote positive explanations of voice-hearing, intrusive thoughts and other unusual experiences, and to give people a framework for developing their own ways of coping with distressing experiences.

Conor McCormack and the group treated the film as a shared endeavour, a means of exploring in depth the complex realm of voice hearing. The difficult task of representing a group of vulnerable adults was carefully negotiated throughout the shoot: supporting ongoing discussions of the ethics of filmmaking, regular screenings were arranged where participants could view and discuss the film and the implications of their involvement.

More information about the Bristol Hearing Voices Network, including meeting times, can be found on their website.

Errol, who was one of the film’s main subjects, had this to say about the project:

“Working, with Conor, on a film about the voice hearing experience was for me a chance to share with the world my story. Everyone who has voices, in their life, experiences them in a unique and individual way. Everyone’s story is different, yet there are similarities. So I hoped that the film would show a different quality of thought, that would make people rethink what they accepted, that it would challenge the stigma of mental health issues which alienate people and causes a lot of fear.

At the viewing of the complete documentary at our Bristol Hearing Voices Group AGM I was immediately struck by how powerful a film can be. Afterwards, some of the people said that they felt quite emotional watching it and the Q&A session which followed stimulated discussion. Being with some of the others who were in the film on a panel to answer questions from the audience felt like we were all trying to get across a message. I think part of that message was: “Voice hearing experiences are very real for me and what I am sharing is my reality.”

The journey from the beginning of the filming was one of optimism and a hope that what we were doing would contribute to a more resonant understanding of what it is like to live with hearing voices and the relationships we have.

The finished product, for me, is like a jewel that you need to hold up to the light to see it sparkle. It is rich with the lives of ordinary people leading a life that is far from ordinary and can be mysterious. It is about a struggle to make sense of the unusual and a desire to be understood.’

Screenings

in the real has been shown in a wide range of national and international settings, including conferences, community centres, clinical contexts and film festivals. If you would like to arrange a screening in a venue near you, please get in touch with us to discuss the details.

Previous screenings

The Freud Museum
23 March 2017
7-8.30pm
Film screening and discussion

Empty Shop, Durham
16 November 2016
8pm
Film screening as part of linked programme of events associated with Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everydaythe world’s first major exhibition on voice-hearing.

8th World Hearing Voices Congress
Maison des associations de solidarité (13e), Paris
20 October 2016
Film screening and discussion

In the Real – Psychosis on Screen
The Watershed, Bristol
27 June 2016
6pm–7.45pm
Film screening and discussion as part of Psychosis on Screen series

UK premiere of in the real
Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne
14 July 2015
5-8pm
Film screening and panel discussion

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