Kings Park: Stories from an American Mental Institution
by Lucy Winer
Kings Park brings to life our nation’s current crisis in public mental health care and helps us understand the road we traveled to get here. Focusing on the rise and fall of Kings Park State Hospital on Long Island, NY, two story-lines interweave: one of the film director’s journey back to face her commitment there; the second of the century-old asylum itself.
Kings Park: Stories of an American Mental Institution offers an intimate look at public mental health care in America by focusing on the story of a single abandoned institution, Kings Park State Hospital, on Long Island, New York. The journey back begins with director Lucy Winer’s efforts to come to terms with her commitment to the state hospital as a teenager in the late 1960’s. Although Lucy’s goals are purely personal when the film begins, her desire to understand and resolve the issues of her past soon evolves into a driving need to learn about the institutional world that once held her captive. To this end Lucy seeks out other former patients, their families, and hospital staff, who share firsthand accounts of life at Kings Park from dramatically different perspectives.

The film ends with a vision of today. Accounts are shared of the well meant, but brutally executed “emptying out” of the hospital, followed by scenes that capture some of the successes of community mental health care as well as our growing reliance on the penal system since the hospital’s close. In this way, Kings Park brings to light our nation’s current crisis in mental health care and helps us to understand how we got here. A vivid picture of a hidden world, Kings Park bears witness to the many changes in treatment, policy and attitudes over the past century and reveals the painful legacy of these soon to be forgotten asylums. This is a must see for any mental health professional wanting to better understand the history of mental health treatment in this country, and the catastrophic unintended consequences of policy gone awry.

What therapists are saying…

“Kings Park is one of the most important teaching tools I have encountered. It helps our psychiatry residents and medical students to see the relevance of their work within our mental health system. The film is also therapeutic, inspiring members of our Stories in Recovery group to film their own experiences with housing and psychiatric services.”

—Helena Hansen, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, NYU Medical Center
“Kings Park is a brave, compelling look at the life of a state mental hospital and those whose lives it has touched. Lucy Winer has thought long and hard about the subject, and brings to her film an admirable balance and depth, combined with sensitivity and even some humor. A brilliant exploration of a difficult and complex issue.”

—Oliver Sacks, MD, Best Selling Author & Professor of Neurology, NYU School of Medicine

“Kings Park is a powerful film…a vehicle for broad public education. Looking to the future as well as the past, Kings Park provides astute historical perspective. Fifty years from now, will we condemn the present, while measuring progress with the same objectivity? I hope so.”

—Bob Carolla, Director of Media Relations, National Alliance on Mental Illness
“Lucy Winer produced a film that required tremendous courage… It should be seen by all those who work with and care for the mentally ill and by all those who care about their future.”

—Benjamin Sadock, MD, Menas S. Gregory Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine
What a beautiful, haunting and important film! In the course of my work I find it hugely important to offer some context for why things are as they are and not as they were supposed to be. Your film looks to be right on the mark.”

—Robert Bernstein, PhD, President &; CEO, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
“Rarely are we able to change attitudes through education; I believe this video has the potential to do so…I cannot recall ever using an educational video that holds student interest like this documentary does.”

—Susan D. Bassett, RN, MS, South Dakota State University, College of Nursing
“Kings Park is a fascinating and vivid exploration of the issue of institutionalization and was the highlight of our graduate-level mental health policy class last year. The film shows students the horrors of institutionalization as well as the challenges of community-based care. According to one student, ‘The documentary brought to light so many truths that have been hidden from the history books.’ I believe it was the most valuable lesson we taught last year.”

—Liz Sale, PhD, Director, Research and Evaluation, Research Associate Professor, Missouri Institute of Mental Health
In Depth
Specs
Bios
A feature documentary, Kings Park offers an inside look at public mental health care in America by focusing on the story of this now abandoned institution. The journey back begins with Lucy’s sudden decision, on the cusp of her fiftieth birthday, to return to Kings Park for the first time in over thirty years. Determined to face her past and come to terms with her commitment to the state hospital, Lucy’s goals are purely personal when the film begins. She soon learns, however, that in order to fully understand her own story, she needs to somehow learn about the institutional world in which she was once locked away. To this end, Lucy seeks out other former patients, their families, and hospital staff, who share intimate accounts of life at Kings Park. Shot on the overgrown and sprawling grounds of the shuttered hospital, these firsthand accounts of a vanishing world bear witness to the many changes in treatment, policy and attitudes over the past century.

The film culminates with a vision of today. Stories are shared of the often brutally executed “emptying out” of the hospital, and we follow Lucy in her effort to see how mental health care has changed since the hospital’s close. Scenes shot at small mental health care centers, committed to the recovery of their members despite limited resources, let us see the kind of progress that is being made. In contrast, footage shot at the local jail reveals a very different reality – where the penal system has replaced the state hospital as the default “provider” for people with serious mental illness.

A documentary with great relevance for today, Kings Park brings to light our nation’s current crisis in mental health care and helps us to understand how we got here. Revealing the lessons of the past as a means of generating open discourse, Kings Park offers a creative platform from which we can face the challenges of the present and imagine the possibilities of the future.

Length of video: 1:48:30

Number of Discs: 0

English subtitles available on: Stream, DVD

This DVD plays in All Regions

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-568-8

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-568-7

Lucy Winer has been directing and producing award-winning documentaries for over 30 years. Committed throughout her career to issues of social concern. Winer’s work has been distributed theatrically in this country and overseas, and broadcast nationally on PBS, POV and cable. Her films have been featured at numerous festivals including Sundance, Berlin, Edinburgh, and Turin, and screened at the American Film Institute Theaters in L.A. and D.C., the Walker Art Institute, the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum. Her awards include “Outstanding Film of the Year” from the London Film Festival, a Golden Plaque from the Chicago International Film Festival, a CINE Golden Eagle and an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Picture.”
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