Starting with the stories of people in the busiest mental health emergency room in the country, the documentary film BEDLAM reveals the national crisis surrounding care for people with severe mental illness. Since its completion, the film has become a catalyst for decriminalizing mental illness in Los Angeles County. In the film, Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, is shown demonstrating to stop the construction of a mental health jail in LA, inspired to action by her brother Monte. BEDLAM premiered in Los Angeles in January 2020 to a full house at the Paramount Theater with a panel discussion, including Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin, California State Senator Holly Mitchell (now a member of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors), Patrick Kennedy and Patrisse Cullors, about how to take action to get those with mental illness out of jail and into treatment.
“BEDLAM is a tool that can facilitate exchanges among advocacy, community and policy stakeholders in a space where we can talk frankly about these urgent and pressing issues. This gets to the core of what our impact is. We are trying to incubate these spaces where we can have these hard conversations. It’s really amazing what we see result from that,” says BEDLAM Impact Producer Javier Rivera DeBruin.
In March 2020, Los Angeles County passed Measure R. Measure R amended the County Code to require the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission to develop a Comprehensive Public Safety Reinvestment Plan. The plan was required to include a study on the feasibility of reducing the county jail population by redirecting $3.5 billion to mental health programs, youth centers and programs, and the Office of Re-entry and Diversion from what was previously expected to be spent on jail expansion.
In October 2020 in Los Angeles, BEDLAM and BLD PWR presented a special screening and panel discuss with BLD PWR Founder Kendrick Sampson. Javi comments, “We put together a great panel with BLD PWR, and people from Justice LA, who were the architects of Measure J, talking about the proposed diversion for funding, what Measure J is, and about how it loops back to the history of mental health treatment presented in BEDLAM.” Then on November 3, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure J, which will divert more county money to social services and jail diversion programs. Measure J requires that 10% of locally generated, unrestricted county money — estimated between $360 million and $900 million — be spent on a variety of social services, including housing, mental health treatment and investments in communities disproportionally harmed by racism. The county will be prohibited from using the money on prisons, jails or law enforcement agencies.
“These two events show BEDLAM is a real educational tool. With the conversations, we are providing people ways to get involved. They can translate that emotional response to the film into action,” says Javi. “We were able to use BEDLAM as an important part of the conversation that resulted in stopping a mental health jail from being built. In a very tangible way, we’re affecting people who have a lot of power in policy and it’s going to positively affect people’s lives.”
Javi continues, “It’s rare to see a film that links historical context to current impact. This is a difficult film to watch. It can be very daunting and overwhelming, but when you pair it with these conversations among people who are working toward generative solutions, it takes it from that place of helplessness and ‘what do we do?’ to something really empowering. The conversations are an important piece of the puzzle. And ultimately, they serve the mission of the filmmakers more completely.”