On February 12, 2014, in Calgary, Alberta, MIMH’s Kelly Gregory and Thom Pancella’s documentary, “Good Golly Miss Molly! A Family’s Transition Story,” showed to an eager audience at the Picture This… Film Festival (PTFF). The PTFF is an international film festival dedicated to featuring films about and/or by persons with disabilities. Their showing was followed by applause, a twenty minute Q&A session, and audience members told Gregory and Pancella that “Molly” had touched them.
“Canada seems to be in a similar situation as the U.S. with regards to transitioning people out of state-run institutions and into community living,” Pancella said. “That made this film especially poignant and also made for a lively discussion.”
“Molly” tells the story of Molly Thomas who was placed in the Marshall Habilitation Center at the age of four because her family felt it was the best place to care for her specific needs. The film documents Molly’s transition, aided by her siblings, as she moved out of the habilitation center and into community living. It was funded by the Missouri Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities, now known as the Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council.
“The objective is to help families engage in the transition process, by giving them a realistic example of someone who ‘traditionally’ would not have been a good candidate to move into the community making a successful transition,” Pancella noted.
Unlike some other filmmakers, Gregory and Pancella go into each situation with open eyes and waiting ears, letting the camera capture what it may. They are not constrained by a pre-determined point. This is evident in their youtube catalogue, at www.YouTube.com/cetv, where one can find a wide range of projects including everything from puppet shows, interviews, and documentaries to fully scripted pieces.
“We really try to let the story tell itself, we don’t like to guide the process,” Gregory said. “Most times the voice will present itself, even if the person themselves cannot speak.”
“The real fun in producing documentaries is not knowing at the outset what the story is or how it will unfold,” Pancella added.
This approach comes as a relief at a time when the most visible documentaries we encounter wear their agendas on their sleeves.
Though neither she nor her family was able to attend, they were kept fully aware of the proceedings in Calgary. A follow-up piece, titled “Beyond Expectations: The Continuing Story of Molly Thomas,” is also available on MIMH’s youtube account and shows Molly’s continued success in community living.
When asked what was in store for their next film, Gregory and Pancella both indicated that anyone’s guess is as good as theirs. Given their open ended, adaptive, and organic method of filmmaking, that should come as no surprise.
“Future projects are determined by our funding sources more than what we would like to see produced,” Pancella said.
“[But] each project is different and we approach each from the perspective that is needed,” Gregory noted.
If you have media-related needs, Gregory and Pancella can help. They welcome the challenge of each new project. Given the wide impact of “Molly” and its international recognition, one would hope that MIMH’s team of filmmakers get numerous opportunities to turn their lens on many more issues in contemporary mental health.