Made over a period of ten years, this wonderful documentary by director Carlos Larrondo provides an inspirational portrait of ‘La Colifata’, a radio station run by the patients of El Borda, a psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires.

One patient says El Borda is ‘for crazy people’, and another calls it ‘a prison without bars,’ while a third brands it ‘a dump for the insane.’ Yet through the course of the film we come to know many of the patients for what they really are —people who are no different from anyone else except for their medical problems.

Once a week, the station broadcasts from the gardens of the hospital, with many of the patients having their own specific slot in which to explore their philosophy of life and examine and strengthen their own place in the world. By reaching over the airwaves, they form a connection with a much wider public and are able to see past their illness to their talent for poetry and music. Among them is Horacio, a poet and dreamer first and manic depressive second, whose talent with words is indisputable. Then there is elderly patient Stella, who spends most of her time living on the streets yet displays a fierce intelligence and tenacity when it comes to hosting interviews on the station. They are just two of the many people who Larrondo teaches us to respect and admire by the end of the film.

Given that there must have been an immense amount of footage thanks to the ten-year gestation of Larrondo’s project, his editing is incredibly sharp. He cleverly interweaves the lives of the ‘Colifatas’ while also telling the tale of a spreading movement of radio stations to help those with mental health problem, focussing on visits by Horacio and others to similar projects in France, Spain and Italy.

Larrondo also shows how the station and its presenters have grown, both in terms of their own health and wellbeing but also in terms of stature, with high-profile musician Manu Chao becoming involved in their fundraising. At one point, a patient talks about how losing your mind leads to losing your life — not by suicide, but by the loss of friends, family and a sense of community that tends to follow the illness.

This moving film show how a sense of solidarity and purpose give those at El Borda a welcome outlet for their talents and, perhaps more importantly, demonstrates how their enthusiasm and words of wisdom lead to a much greater awareness and understanding of mental illness in the wider community. ¡Viva! la Radio! — Amber Wilkinson.

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