The Crownsville Hospital in Maryland, in its history of a 100 years, is a testimony to how modern medicine has addressed mental illness. It is an example of how institutions can disintegrate under bad management and state apathy. Founded, at the beginning of the twentieth century, for the mentally ill, in the black population, the hospital was built by patients themselves, living in tents, cooking their food and even making their clothes. While the Hospital is witness to the progressive changes in racial perceptions, it is also a spectator to how little has changed in societal perception of mental illness.
Crownsville Hospital: From Lunacy and Legacy, a documentary by director Todd Stevens is an in-depth documentation of its legacy. The documentary uses interviews, about fifty of them, with staff, residents and locals recreating its different visages. We hear first-hand accounts of the strange doings of the patients and the inhuman treatment meted out by the authorities. The Hospital soon turns to a place where people are sent to be forgotten more than to be treated. Compartmentalized into chapters, the structure of the documentary makes it easy to consume, for such an emotionally exhausting content. It provides a comprehensive picture of the important chapters in the history of the institution that chart its course. The camera has succeeded in capturing the beauty of the place without missing out on the eerie airs about the place. The use of archival pictures and videos alongside present-day footage from inside and outside the establishment, augmented with animated sequences that recreate a couple of high impact scenes; and impressive time-lapse photography, makes it a visual treat.
An institution whose functioning was mired in controversies all through its existence, the Crownsville Hospital, even after being closed down, stands as a vestige of the inhuman treatment meted out to the disturbed souls in the name of experiments and cures. The documentary ends, leaving us with a glimmer of hope, of a few good souls, working for the nameless many who have disappeared without a trace during their stay at Crownsville Hospital.