How feature film “Goliath” will battle the giants of mental health stigmas

Jessica Sipos stars as Robin Walker in "Goliath." Image courtesy of "Goliath's" Director of Photography, Jordan Kennington.

For years, film student Luke Villemaire has been trying to tell his story about mental illness. But he just didn’t know how. Although he was successful in various aspects of his life, he knew there was a void that needed to be filled.

“There came a point when I had a revelation about myself on how unhappy I was,” he said. “This perfect image that I had built for myself was completely going out the window.”

After he noticed the lack of mental health awareness in the entertainment industry, he decided to use his passion for filmmaking as an outlet to channel all of the emotions that he was feeling. He saw this as an opportunity reach out to those who are suffering from mental illness as well.

And that was when Goliath was born: a feature film written, directed and produced by Villemaire.

The film revolves around Robin Walker, who suffers from depression and borderline personality disorder. After her father passes away, she returns back home to her family and tries to bring them all together once again, while dealing with her own problems. The obstacles that Robin face reflect Villemaire’s struggle with mental illness.

“I’ve made it a priority to tell the story of someone struggling with a mental illness in a way that doesn’t feel forced, manufactured or manipulated,” he said.

“Goliath to Robin is her inability to deal with what’s going on in her life, it’s the biggest, most difficult force working against her,” Nathan Dharamshi, a third-year Ryerson film student and the producer of Goliath, said.

Jessica Sipos, who plays Robin Walker, knew she wanted to be a part of Goliath after reading the script for the first time. “I felt Luke created a story that didn’t avoid confrontation and dealt with real-world problems in a very human way,” she said.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will experience mental illness. A StatsCanada health report reveals that about seven per cent of 15-to-24-year-olds have had depression in the past year. People who suffer from mental illness are often seen in a negative light, and Villemaire and Dharamshi are using their voices to stop the stigma and get more people involved in raising mental health awareness.

“As filmmakers, we have an obligation because we have a medium and an outreach to express the importance of mental health issues. Because you don’t see mental health, it’s often not taken seriously.” Dharamshi said. “It does affect more people than you know, and because you don’t see it, you don’t think it will.”

“Don’t be the person who sits back and says there’s nothing we can do about it. We place a lot of emphasis on the person’s responsibility to ask for help, but there is so much importance in us supporting people and being good listeners,” Villemaire said. “Practice empathy, practice gratitude.”

Villemaire hopes the audience will see Goliath and Robin Walker as a “cautionary tale and a lighthouse to those who find themselves on a similar course” and see mental health in a different perspective.

“It makes me feel proud to be a part of a project and team that has the courage to tackle such a sensitive, and at times, intimidating subject,” Sipos said. “Being outspoken and proactive halts the stigma of mental illness by eliminating misperceptions and reducing negative attitudes towards the subject.”

“This is my experience. This is what’s happening to me. I’m sure someone else can relate, and I want to put that on the screen,” he said. “If they can take something from that, then I’ve done my job because I’m getting a message across.”

Goliath is expected to be released in film festivals and select movie theatres later this year.