Press Release: For Immediate Release
The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities
and Florentine Films/Hott Productions
announce the release of the new documentary film


Based on the book by Jay Neugeboren


Hayley Wood
Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities


Larry Hott
Florentine Films/Hott Productions, Inc.

The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and Florentine Films/Hott Productions have just released IMAGINING ROBERT: MY BROTHER, MADNESS AND SURVIVAL, a one-hour film by Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey and based on the book of the same name by Jay Neugeboren. Hott and Garey, producers of many films for national PBS broadcast, are two-time Academy Award nominees and Emmy and Peabody Award winners.

The film is the centerpiece of a year-long series of screenings and discussions sponsored by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and the Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts, a program of the Ford Foundation.

“I have heard parts of this story for a long time.” says Larry Hott, producer and director. “ Jay is and a friend and neighbor, and occasionally he would tell me about his brother Robert and how much time and energy he had to devote to him. When the book came out I heard Jay give a reading and saw the impact the story had on the audience. I was convinced that this would be wonderful material for a film.” The book, which received glowing reviews from the New York Times and The Boston Globe, struck a nerve with hundreds of thousands of Americans for many reasons, including the fact that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, at least 17 million Americans are affected, in their nuclear families alone, by long-term severe mental illnesses.

Robert, who is now sixty years old, five years younger than Jay, experienced his first episode of mental illness during his freshman year at the City College of New York -- since then he has been hospitalized and re-hospitalized for mental illness (schizophrenia, manic-depression) more than fifty times. For thirty-eight years he has lived within the mental health system, his treatment and prognosis changing with each new doctor and each new "cure." He has been in state hospitals, city hospitals, halfway houses, group homes, jail cells, elite treatment centers, forensic hospitals, and, for brief periods, in his own apartments. He has been treated with gas inhalation, insulin coma therapy, four-point restraints, and virtually the entire armamentaria of neuroleptic and psychotropic drugs. Through the years he's also participated in group therapy, family therapy, multifamily group therapy, psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy, art therapy, behavioral therapy, vocational rehabilitation therapy, and milieu therapy. Most often, though, he has had an abundance of drugs and a sad lack of care.

Jay often refers to his brother as a walking archaeological dig of mental health treatment in the twentieth century. “The very history of the ways in which our mental health system has dealt with the mentally ill has been passing through my brother’s mind and body,” he says.

When he first became ill in 1962, Robert's parents took charge of his care, but a decade later, they retired to Florida, and left Robert, an adult, in New York. Jay took over 25 years ago, and since that time has been Robert's primary caretaker. Their father died in Florida in 1976, so that Jay is now also responsible for his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease, and who spends her days in a nursing home in West Palm Beach. She no longer recognizes Jay when he visits. One of the more poignant, and controversial scenes in the film, is when Jay, interviewed beside his mother in her nursing home bed, tells the story of how he reacted when his parents told him they were leaving Robert in his care.

The filmmakers had several setbacks when they started searching for underwriting support. Ironically, the delays ended up working in their favor. “Because we couldn’t get funding at first two positive things happened,” recalls Hott. “We weren’t able to really start filming until Robert was moved from a locked ward to Project Renewal, a very good halfway house in New York City. So we were able to follow his progress over the course of two years while he adapted to life outside an institution for the first time in many years. Also, I am the cinematographer for the film, something I don’t usually do. The advantage is that there is no one interposed between the subject and me. When I’m taping Jay and Robert they relate directly to me without anyone else being involved. It brings an intimacy and immediacy to the film that would not otherwise be there.”

The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities has used the completed film to orchestrate dialogue about mental illness on a local, state and national level. Each public screening is designed to bring people from different backgrounds – patients, families, police, social workers, lawyers, health-care providers – together in a non-crisis situation. Partners in the dialogue series include Windhorse Associates, the Recovery Workshop and the Anchor House of Artists in Northampton, MA, the Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire chapters of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the national office of NAMI, the Northampton Arts Council, the law firm of Schmidt and Botter, The Family Diversity Project, and the Community Services Bureau of the Northampton Police Department.

The goal of this project, according to MFH director David Tebaldi, is to stimulate dialogue about the impact of chronic mental illness on families. A second goal is to bring to a large public an important story that is largely untold: the story of millions of individuals with mental illness who are virtually invisible to the nation at large. The ultimate goal is to improve the lives of those with mental illness and their families through greater understanding of their dilemmas and challenges. “We intend to use the programs as a template that can be copied by others such as the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the state legislature, and medical and social work schools in the region,” Tebaldi said when asked about future plans for the film.
IMAGINING ROBERT is one of the first films to tell what it is like for the millions of families that cope, day by day and year by year, over the course of a lifetime, with a condition for which, in most cases, there is no solution.

The film is funded by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts, funded by the Ford Foundation, the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, and the Massachusetts Media Merit Award a program of the Boston Film and Video Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The film is available through its distributor, Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 800-257-5126,

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©2002 Florentine Films/Hott Productions, Inc.