50th Anniversary Screening of Titicut Follies

Event Start:
12/05/2017 5:30 PM
Event End:
12/05/2017 8:00 PM

Tuesday, December 5, 2017
5:30 PM to 8:00 PM
Social Law Library, John Adams Courthouse, Boston, MA

Co-sponsored by

Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee


Comments and panel discussion by:
Eric MacLeish (Of counsel; Clark, Hunt, Ahern & Embry, and long-time litigator against Bridgewater State Hospital)
James Pingeon (Litigation Director, Prisoners Legal Services)
Jennifer Honig (Senior Attorney, MHLAC)
Phillip Kassel (MHLAC Director)

Reception to follow.


Life Magazine warned that Frederic Wiseman’s 1967 documentary, Titicut Follies, exposed the “repulsive reality” hidden behind the walls of the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts. Those who watched winced at “our capacity for callousness.”
Indeed, one of the nation’s most influential film critics, Roger Ebert, wrote that it was one of the “most despairing documentaries” he had ever seen—despairing because it exposed the way that society at large treated the mentally ill. As The New Republic said, there are many “Bridgewaters of this nation.

The power of the film derived from Frederic Wiseman’s pioneering use of a new form of filmmaking—cinéma vérité—whose unembellished images spoke for themselves without the need for an omniscient narrator. The camera itself served as a societal mirror.

Although film aficionados deemed Titicut Follies a “brilliant work of art”, it quickly came under attack in the courts. Viewing by public audiences was banned for more than twenty years by the Supreme Judicial Court. The film may have pricked the conscience of society, but the Court held that it also invaded the privacy rights of the patients who were its hapless subjects.

The program will begin with a welcome from the Library’s Executive Director, Robert Brink, and a brief introduction to the topic by Eric MacLeish, who will offer background on the history of reform advocacy at BSH. After the 50th Anniversary screening of what is still a difficult film to watch, there will be refreshments and a general discussion including experienced mental health advocates Eric, Jim, Jennifer, and Phil.

Reservations Required

This program is made possible through the generosity of the Edgar J. Bellefontaine Charitable Fund

The views expressed are those of guest speakers and not necessarily of the Library or the Bellefontaine Charitable Fund. Registrants for this program acknowledge that during the program their photographic or videographic images may be incidentally taken; registrants agree that the submission of their registrations for this program constitutes their written consent to the Social Law Library’s use of any such image in print and online materials solely for promotion of the Library’s noncommercial CLE seminars and other educational events and activities.
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