Documentary Australia Foundation

Next submission deadline is
16 May 2014

Breaking the chains: The fight for human rights for Indonesia’s mentally ill

Breaking the chains: The fight for human rights for Indonesia’s mentally ill
Director /
Erminia Colucci, Erminia Colucci
2012 July
AUD $53500
AUD $59000
70 minutes
Arts, Health & Wellbeing, Human Rights, Social Justice, Welfare

About the film

The practice of using shackles and chains (known in Indonesia as pasung) to physically restrain people with mental illness is widespread in Indonesia (as in many other developing countries) and almost universally ignored. The Indonesian government is the first of any low or middle-income country that has established a national program to eradicate this practice. This documentary, the first of its kind, highlights the activities carried out at several levels in the country to eradicate this form of human rights abuse and give freedom and dignity to the mentally ill.
This film will give a voice to the mentally ill in Indonesia who are living in pasung and tell an original story about the social and political activism to free them from this practice. In particular, the film will follow the activities that have been initiated by an organization run by mental health patients.

The funding will be used to produce a photo-booklet and three independent but connected films:
1. ‘Free from Pasung: The fight for human rights for Indonesia’s mentally ill’
This documentary closely follows the activities carried out by an NGO run by mental health consumers and, in particular, documents the process that leads to the freedom of mentally ill people who are victims of pasung. This film features observational cinema and interviews with the key stakeholders, including the families and pasung victims and survivors. The aim of this film is to provide an understanding of what ‘pasung’ is and explore the reasons beyond this inhumane practice and the challenges to eradicate this abuse.

2. ‘Free from Pasung: Anto’s story’
This short documentary will focus on the story of Anto, a young person who was chained several times because of his mental health problems. Utilizing observational and testimony film techniques, the film explores Anto’s experience as someone who has known pasung ‘first hand’ and also gives an insight into his new life as an artist and English student.

3. ‘Human rights violations among the mentally ill’
The issue of human rights among the mental ill at the international level will be discussed by scholars from different countries (Australia, Asia, U.K., Canada, US, and Africa). Extracts from the footage filmed in Indonesia will be used to illustrate the topic.

Funding amount Sought

AUD $53500

Total Project Budget

AUD $59000

Length of Production

70 minutes

Stage of Production


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

This production aspires to raise awareness and inspire change on the issue of human rights abuses of the mentally ill. It also seeks to empower the victims and survivors of the practice of pasung by providing a platform on which to present their issues. Specifically, the documentary and photo-booklet meet the goals of charities and philanthropists engaged in mental health, human rights, social justice, development, poverty and/or global health. This production aims to stimulate and encourage activity in other developing countries where similar practices are presently occurring while stimulating action in high income countries, such as Australia, which are involved in improving the health system of low resource countries. This production wants to bring attention to this generally ignored issue, in order to stop the abuse of vulnerable people such as the mentally ill and help to give dignity, freedom and better care to those in need. This goal would match the vision of any charity or philanthropic foundation fighting for the defense of the weak, the poor, the sick and the abused.

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

This project will have significance beyond Indonesia. By showing the social and political activism to stop this practice in Indonesia, this documentary aims to stimulate and encourage a response in other low-income countries where similar practices that deny the basic human rights of the mentally ill are presently occurring. This film also intends to increase awareness and stimulate action in high-income countries, like Australia, UK, Canada and US, which are in the front-line in the advocacy for care and dignity of the mentally ill in low-income countries.

To achieve its aims, the key documentary and the two linked shorts must reach different audiences. Thus, the films will be submitted to a variety of national and international film festivals. They will also be made available through DVDs. Later the films will also be streamed via websites and blogs. Screenings of the films with Q&A sessions will also be organized.

The impact will be measured via:
- the number of film screenings;
- the presence of the project in the media (e.g. articles and interviews);
- comments/debates on websites featuring the photos and/or films;
- reference to the project in government and academic publications.

What is your education and outreach strategy

The documentaries will be developed to appeal to diverse audiences. As the director/producer is also a mental health scholar and The University of Melbourne is a partner in the project, the films will be presented at national and international conferences. The films have already been requested, upon completion, as teaching material for post-graduate courses in Australia, UK, Indonesia, France, and Canada.
The documentaries will be submitted to different film festivals (including human rights, ethnographic documentary, and mental health festivals) and, whenever possible, the director will hold Q&A sessions. Furthermore, targeted community screenings will also be pursued by the director or the local and international collaborators in the project to reach the largest and broadest audience possible. A broadcast partner for a TV screening may also be sought.
Targeted DVD distribution will also be implemented to ensure 'Free from Pasung' reaches its intended audience, both in government and non-government organizations.
Later the films will also be streamed via websites and blogs, such as websites of mental health, human rights and development organizations.
A photo-booklet and photo-exhibition -accompanied by film-screenings- will also be produced in order to reach audiences via various mediums.

Who are the filmmakers responsible for the project?

Erminia Colucci’s fascination with cultures and the way they express themselves began during her undergraduate studies in Italy and continued throughout her Postgraduate studies and fieldwork in Australia, Italy, U.K., India, Philippines and Japan. She uses photography and documentary to visually (re)present and share what she explores in her writing as a scholar in cultural mental health at the University of Melbourne. Her films and photos have been exhibited in Italy, Australia, Uruguay, Canada, U.K. and The Netherlands. Erminia is also the chair of the NGO 'Multicultural Women in Arts’, co-chair of the WACP (World Association of Cultural Psychiatry) SIG on Arts and Psychiatry, and a media specialist at the University of Philippines.
Erminia will work on this project in consultation with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology (University of Manchester) and in collaboration with The University of Melbourne.