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A Daughter Explores the Legacy of Her Father’s Visionary Mental Health Treatment in ‘Don’t Call Me Mad’

After discovering archive footage filmed by her psychologist father in 1990s Germany, director Zora Kuttner began exploring his radical treatment of mental illness, and the stories she listened to throughout her life. The result is ‘Don’t Call Me Mad’, an investigation into not only Dr. Kuettner’s visionary treatment methods, but also how his past influenced his relationship with his daughter.

The project, selected as part of the IDFA Forum Pitch Program, Kuettner’s first feature film, is produced by BFI Vision Award-winning Loran Dunn of Delaval Film, and executive produced by Charlie Phillips, former head of video at The Guardian, and Henry Singer of Sandpaper Film.

“I think this movie has always been in me and now felt like the right time to make it happen,” says Kuettner. “I believe as a woman, if you are even a little organized and have a good head on your shoulders, you get into the producer role very quickly, and it can be quite difficult to make the leap into directing. With this film, no one else could tell this story. I am my father’s daughter, so I felt justified as a director, so to speak.”

Loran, who is also working on a fiction film starring ‘Stranger Things’ actor Joseph Quinn, adds, ‘I’ve known Zora for almost 10 years and know she’s been working on this story for a long time. We started talking about it right before the pandemic and it developed in a way that was very interesting to me. To see Zora recognize her voice in the film was something I really responded to as a producer, and I wanted to help her get the story told.

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On the toll the film could take on her relationship with her father, Zora says: “There’s a fear of exposing not only him, but exposing myself. I think it’s very normal as a filmmaker to have doubts , because some people look at my father’s story and ask: why do I care? And then you dig deeper and the fact that he was a reformer is not really the story; the story is trying to find the truth: what is happened? I hope that this personal dynamic brings people to the story and is seduced to think about serious mental illness.”

“I started talking to my dad about the movie about 10 years ago, in 2013,” she continues, reflecting on the lengthy preparation process she went through with her dad. “I think he was uncomfortable starting the journey. He was interested and longed to see his patients again and find out what had happened, but I think he was also quite nervous and anxious about what confronting that part of his life would mean for him.

“The other thing is that I’m finding myself as a filmmaker. When I started making this movie, I thought it would be about the great stories my dad used to tell, and we’d meet his patients and he’d be this great hero. The film turned out to be a reckoning of sorts that dreams may not always be what we thought, and some things can be very different. It feels like the ultimate stage of adulthood, getting to that point,” she adds.

Speaking of the importance of making “Don’t Call Me Mad,” Kuettner says, “There’s a certain amount of irony in the fact that I’m stuck in this film’s idealistic hopes of wanting to tell this story in the good way. Filmmaking is also a form of idealism, so you have a dream of what the film can be, and this is one of my driving forces. When I first started working on the film, I had never heard a story that was anything but cheerful or positive about what you can do with someone who has schizophrenia or hears voices Even though the truth I discovered is more complex than what my father originally suggested, I think I still have some of that beauty, some of want to capture that magic and some of that hope.”

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