Halifax novelist and poet Anna Quon wants Canadians to think about the state of mental and dental health care in the country.
Quon’s developing a film called Me & My Teeth. She won $20,000 at The Launch, Lunenburg Doc Fest’s 2022 documentary pitch contest, on Nov. 14
She plans to highlight the experiences of low-income communities and people of colour.
“They’ve been pretty much ignored as far as having a working system that benefits all Canadians, including the most marginalized,” she said.
Driving Quon’s film is her exploration of the relationship she has with her teeth, which were a source of pride to her as a child.
“I thought I had perfect teeth,” she said with a laugh. “I had teeth that were really strong and straight. Other kids around me needed braces. It just seemed like the symbol of my specialness.”
Those childhood illusions faded when Quon got her first cavity and faced mental-health challenges in her 20s.
“Me & My Teeth is the story of how I go from being a kid who has magical thinking about her great, perfect destiny, to realizing that wasn’t my reality,” she said.
In the film, Quon’s teeth symbolize her shift away from the idea that she would be perfectly healthy for the rest of her life. Part of this reckoning resulted from her disillusionment with health care available to Canadians.
‘We’re all deserving of it’
Quon was first admitted to a psychiatric hospital in the early 1990s. Since then, she has been in and out of them for a total of around 10 years. She said people facing barriers to mental and dental health care are often stigmatized in similar ways.
“People might see you as weak or that you’re not taking care of yourself, when in fact there’s often an economic issue,” she said, noting it’s especially difficult for people who don’t have health insurance.
“It’s also about how society views people as well,” she added. “So if you can’t get a date or a job because you don’t have good teeth, or because you have a mental-health problem, that’s not going to get you far in supporting yourself and having a happy life.”
Quon said many people struggling with their health feel like they can’t reach out for help at all.
“What frustrates me the most is that we’re all deserving of it,” she said.
As she develops her film, Quon is exploring how a lack of affordable housing and poverty act as barriers to a healthy life.
Margaret Murray understands this well. The co-manager of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Halifax-Dartmouth branch said resources didn’t flow into the community after hospitals transitioned from inpatient to outpatient care starting in the 1960s.
“The reality is that most provinces, including Nova Scotia, spend less than seven per cent of their health-care budgets on mental health and substance use care,” she said in an email to The Signal. “It is not only clinical mental health care but also the social determinants of health that play a major role in well-being and recovery.”
What lies ahead
Quon has made short films for her poetry. She worked with film director Rachel Bower to write an autobiographical documentary entitled Anna Quon (2021), which inspired her to apply to The Launch.
But she’s never had the resources to spearhead her own documentary project until now.
Film director Juanita Peters, one of the jury members, was moved by Quon’s pitch.
“You can’t change anything if you don’t talk about it,” Peters said. “Anna, as somebody who has first-hand experience, is finding a way to make that conversation palatable.”
Over the next eight months, Quon will develop Me & My Teeth with friends, community members, and a filmmaking mentor. The film is expected to premiere at Lunenburg Doc Fest in September 2023.
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Audrey (they/them) is a journalism student at the University of King's College. They have a background in Contemporary Studies and Cinema &...