2019 Sundance Docs in Focus: BEDLAM

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Kenneth Paul Rosenberg exposes the sobering truth behind America’s failure to properly care for the mentally ill over the past half century.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

BEDLAM is the first major documentary to explore the crisis in care of severely mentally-ill citizens. Set in Los Angeles, the film tracks wrenching individual stories of mentally-ill patients caught on an endless merry-go-round of ineffective care, exposing the anatomy of a broken healthcare mill.

What was once a system built around long-term asylum care has essentially become a crude horror show for thousands who are detained, medicated, and tossed onto the streets with no means of recovery. There, petty crime and drug addiction land many in prison, where they are detained and medicated again, creating a tragic loop. As one psychiatrist points out, this government-sanctioned loop is the actual definition of insanity. Add to that the fact that few psychiatrists are even willing to treat those most severely afflicted, and you’ve got an all-out crisis that’s also a major source of homelessness and incarceration.

With a mixture of pained intimacy and sweeping historical context, BEDLAM shows how deep-seated shame, stigma, and decades-long political negligence have led to the single largest social catastrophe of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Some Background:

  • Kenneth Paul Rosenberg

    Rosenberg is a practicing psychiatrist and author of both medical textbooks and books on psychiatry and mental health. His previous documentary work has appeared on PBS and HBO, garnering a Peabody Award and an Emmy nomination, and has been shortlisted for the Academy Award.


  • Peter Miller
    Past Sundance docs:

    BLUE VINYL (2002)

    Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Miller’s past work has been Oscar shortlisted, and includes PBS projects in collaboration with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, including THE WAR and JAZZ.


  • Alan Barker

    While this is Barker’s first Sundance credit as a producer, he has served as a sound recordist for numerous past projects, most recently THIS IS EVERYTHING: GIGI GORGEOUS (2017).

    Joan Churchill
    Past Sundance docs:

    ASYLUM (1992)
    LILY TOMLIN (1987)

    Churchill has also served as the director of photography for several additional Sundance titles, most recently LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM (2014).

Supervising Producer:

  • ITVS’s Shana Swanson

    This marks Swanson’s first Sundance project.

Executive Producers:

  • ITVS’s Lois Vossen and Sally Jo Fifer
    Combined recent past Sundance docs:

    MINDING THE GAP (2018)
    THE FORCE (2017)
    MOTHERLAND (2017)
    QUEST (2017)

    The President/CEO and Executive Producer of ITVS have regularly provided funding and broadcast support for numerous past Sundance films. They also executive produced fellow 2019 US Documentary Competition titles ALWAYS IN SEASON and ONE CHILD NATION.

Fifer is also an executive producer of 2019 Documentary Premieres title WORDS FROM A BEAR.


  • Jim Cricchi

    This is Cricchi’s first project at Sundance.

Why You Should Watch:
Offering both necessary wider historical background and grounded contemporary profiles of individuals forced to reckon with the ineffectual status quo, Rosenberg’s film is harrowing, moving, enlightening, and enraging in equal measure, and serves as an urgent wake up call that the existing systems of managing the care of the mentally ill needs a radical rethink.

More Info:
Sundance’s Meet the Artist Profile

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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