IMAGINING ROBERT is a story of two brothers, one who has suffered the horrors and sadness of mental illness for thirty-eight years--the other, a prize-winning novelist who has been his brother's primary caretaker through these years. Based on the life experiences of Jay and Robert Neugeboren, IMAGINING ROBERT is a true story--true not only for the protagonists, but for millions of other Americans. Jay, Writer-in-Residence at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, published Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness, and Survival in 1997. The book 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.

IMAGINING ROBERT is one of the first films to tell what it is like for these 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. By setting Jay and Robert's story within the context of their particular family history, we will share the anguish, the despair, the joys, and the frustrations that Jay and Robert have experienced in their struggles to survive, and to do more than survive.


Robert 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-seven 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.


Many films look at mental illness, or new drugs, or experimental therapies. This film will look at the impact these things have on one family, and how that one family's experience has meaning for us all.

IMAGINING ROBERT will stimulate national and international debate and discussion about the care and treatment of individuals with serious mental illnesses, and about the effects of severe and persistent mental illnesses on families who must struggle with the fact of these conditions across entire lives. We know of success stories and "star" stories--the Patty Dukes, Kay Jamisons, Mike Wallaces, and William Styrons who suffer psychiatric crises, receive good treatment, and get well. But most people with severe mental illness are not stars, and most do not get well.

The stigma, shame, and secrecy that accompany mental illness invariably isolate individuals and families, so that the stories of millions of individuals like Jay and Robert remain, for the most part, invisible to the nation at large. Out-of-mind usually means out-of-sight, and thus, as a nation, we know little about the lives and needs of these people and their families.


Jay and Robert appear in the film, along with a cast of family characters and mental health professionals. The film was produced,directed, and filmed by Lawrence Hott and edited by Diane Garey. Hott and Garey have received an Emmy, the Peabody Award, two Academy Award nominations and have produced fifteen award-winning films for national PBS broadcast.

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©2002 Florentine Films/Hott Productions, Inc.