The manager of the asylum asked me to look for his daughter in California. I posted a teaser for the film online and the daughter emailed me in London wanting to know what her father was doing in a mental asylum. She had been told he was dead and hadn't seen him in 22 years. I arranged for the family to be reunited and now this is part of the film.

We're running a Kickstarter campaign and building our audience so feel free to ask any questions. Links below. Proof of ID is here -

Comments: 113 • Responses: 47  • Date: 

ajhorsburgh35 karma

How did the asylum end up being run by the patients? Is it an 'open asylum'?

markaitken44 karma

Well it's just outside Juarez in the desert. People are more or less dumped there, having survived the most violent city in the world. It's a very different place with different rules.

stpb2114 karma

You don't exactly tend to think of asylums or prisons as a picture of democracy. With that said, how does the idea of the patients being in control hold up on a day to day basis? This really intrigues me from a social perspective...

markaitken12 karma

I'd use the word 'control' in a measured way. Those that can help the others. I think the key is empathy but you should realise that this place in Mexico is very violent and death is always near. These people looking after each other set an example that others can follow.

PhroMetal24 karma

Is medication available for those that need it? Is there any sort of regulatory system for who's allowed in and out if the asylum?

markaitken32 karma

Well, drugs are donated as and when they are available so the mental illness rises and falls. The biggest problem is a lack of occupational therapy - boredom and a lack of having anything constructive to do.

All comers are welcome. Some escape and are never seen again while others are in and out. It's not exactly a prison but dangerous patients are locked up.

Chairsniffa22 karma

Sounds like an amazing documentary! Eight murders a day? That sounds like hell! Did you have some hairy moments while shooting in such a violent city? With the criminals and that....

markaitken33 karma

Well that's why I ended up in the asylum as it's safer than the streets. Saying that, there's a lot of murderers in the asylum...

meliorist8 karma

so how did you end up in mexico then?

markaitken7 karma

I was intrigued about how people lived with such extreme violence - how do you live with that kind of fear?

fragmede6 karma

soooo... how do you live with that kind of fear?

markaitken3 karma

I've a film about fear on YouTube called Forest of Crocodiles and of course, this one I'm trying to complete. There's no easy answer but you have to transcend it or you'll be trapped.

Eric_Streb15 karma

I read the top about the Daughter in California have there been any more moments like that with people being reunited.

markaitken11 karma

Not that I know of but the family reunion should help make the subject more accessible to people.

Empangale13 karma

How is the asylum funded?

markaitken16 karma

On an ad-hoc basis via donations. But if you can spread the word about the film, this will help or visit our page here -

HillelSlovak12 karma

Easy one: Where did the idea for the film come from?

markaitken22 karma

I read about it in a book by Charles Bowden called Murder City - great book.

Derp-herpington-1 karma

so basically this will be an homage to the original idea or story? Or how original is this? In other words, How exactly did you come across the concept?

markaitken5 karma

It's a documentary. I discovered the story as I worked. It's absolutely original.

royspray3110 karma

I have not been to Juarez in a decade. It has gotten too dangerous to casually visit Mexico since the cartels have exploded. If you have been in the past can you describe the conditions there now. I have friends that go visit family deeper in and literaly going in 10 car convoys. It would help people here understand.

markaitken8 karma

It's very hard to know what is the cause of the carnage in Juarez as there's so many reasons. As Chuck Bowden says - it's the laboratory of the future. I guess I'm lucky nothing happened to me but I had some close shaves. The problem is that you never know when something bad is going to happen - until it's too late.

BassStik9 karma

What is the closest call you had in a dangerous situation?

markaitken5 karma

I was very sick with a virus when I was there last December and had to work throughout. But that's more foolish than dangerous. I had some encounters with the patients that were a little too close - especially when I was told that they hear voices that might just advise them to kill me.

grant06 karma

Hi, are you able to provide proof that you are, indeed, Mark Aitken? You can message the moderators a photo of photo ID if you don't want to post it publicly. Feel free to black out sensitive information from it. Thanks!

markaitken4 karma

I can send a Jpeg but who do I send it to?

grant07 karma

Preferably post it here, but if you'd rather not, there's a "message the moderators" button in the sidebar on the right, near the bottom. You can send it to us there. Just upload to and send a link. Cheers!

markaitken4 karma

I'm not worried about hiding it but how do I post a photo here?

grant07 karma

Upload to and post the link.

markaitken23 karma

Here you go...

MEAT_FIST3 karma

This doesnt have anything proving it's coukd have just googled it.

markaitken1 karma

Well my name is Mark Aitken and if you go to you'll see me all over the site. I've worked on this film for 2 years so far.

UhWaitWhat2 karma

More substantive proof would be, for example, a photo of you holding up a piece of paper with your reddit username and the date. This would help to show it's actually you and not just a photograph someone found online.

markaitken1 karma

Fine - where do I post this picture so as to stop these doubts?

newhere_0 karma

Usually in a 'proof' pic you'd be holding up a 'hi reddit' sign with the date or something similar to distinguish it from a picture that anybody could post of you.

markaitken1 karma

Fine - where do I post this picture so as to stop these doubts?

MEAT_FIST-3 karma

My name is also Mark Aitken and if you go to you'll see me all over the site.

You see how easy it is to say that without any proof?

markaitken2 karma

This site has verified me so please take it up with the moderators.

Reformed_journalist5 karma

I remember that place from years ago when I worked in El Paso. If I'm correct it's to the west of the center of Juarez and south of the Anapara area. I used to cover that area along with the Juarez cops during the early days of the serial killings.

markaitken2 karma

Yes, it's on the road to Casa Grandes near the house on the mountain laid on for Armando Carillo. The asilo opened in 1998.

2013Justin4 karma

During your time filming, were you approached by the cartel at any time? Do they have any significant influence over the asylum?

markaitken4 karma

No, I never had any dealings with criminals but they were killing police when I was there as two cartels were fighting over Juarez. The have approached the asylum founder, Pastor Galvan but he said no. Even cartel members desire redemption but they had to go elsewhere.

Buffalo__Buffalo2 karma

What do you think are the positives of this kind of a model as opposed to a regular state-run kind of set up?

markaitken6 karma

These people show love an compassion to one another while 8 people are murdered with impunity in Juarez. I'm no expert on mental health but I think we can learn something from these people who have so few resources - empathy being the main one at their disposal.

AntiDerp2 karma

What is this miraculous discovery you mentioned?

PastRecedes2 karma

Who decides who needs medication and what medication they should be on?

markaitken2 karma

A psychiatrist visits once a week as a volunteer to diagnose patients and he decides on medication. The problems start when the medication runs out.

HaPTiCxAltitude1 karma

Is the medication legitimate pharmaceutical meds, or are they drugs either made or stolen by the cartels?

markaitken2 karma

They're meds donated by a hospital. A lot of people are damaged by drug use on the streets. No drugs of this sort are tolerated in the asylum. As you'll see in the film though, there's rich irony in the fact that Josué who hands out drugs to patients had a 30 year heroin habit and is never tempted. That's what you call a reformed addict!

SumNemo1 karma

It looks like your team has invested a lot already. If your kickstarter succeeds and if this film becomes profitable, will any money be donated to the asylum?

markaitken5 karma

I've personally invested £17K. We've had no support from broadcasters or funders. Some of my investment has been donated to the asylum ($3K) and I hope to raise money for a vegetable farm at the asylum once the film is completed but one thing at a time...

SumNemo1 karma

Thanks for the response. I'm kicking in, but I'm short on cash until July. Please keep us updated if this doesn't fund fully, I can give more next time. Fascinating story.

markaitken1 karma

Thanks - if you drop me a line mark(at) then I'll put you on the mailing list.

G_dude1 karma

I'm a former member of the Rotary International Club in Mexico. I was in another part of Mexico but I’m sure there is a group in Juarez that might be able to help the asylum.

markaitken1 karma

Well they would welcome any help. I can pass on details if you like...

asforus1 karma

Why are people being murdered in the asylum?

markaitken2 karma

People are being murdered in Juarez - the city these people have escaped from.

SumNemo1 karma

Is the founder still involved in the asylum? If so, how does he see his role in the current state? Do you have interviews with him?

markaitken2 karma

His name is 'El' Pastor Galvan. He is the founder and fundraiser. I do have interviews with him. You can visit here

packetOFfries1 karma

Make a movie about the movie- it would be so awesome

markaitken1 karma

If only I'd had another crew with me.... I did keep a diary and take a lot of photos so I'll publish this as a book in due course.

JackDerriere1 karma

Are these people in the asylum actually diagnosed with something? I mean, other than, "hey, you're messed up".

markaitken2 karma

Yes, a psychiatrist visits once a week as a volunteer to diagnose patients.

justwhatyouwanttosay1 karma

Have you ever watched the 9th configuration?

markaitken1 karma

No - tell me...

justwhatyouwanttosay1 karma

Well I recommend checking it out. Shutter Island is a rip off of it.

A patient who doesn't realize he's insane, thinks he's running the place. They're both good stories.

Came out in the late 70's I believe

markaitken1 karma

I'll take a look - thanks.

BiggerJ1 karma

What happens if your kickstarter fails? Will your film never be finished? I hope that's not the case.

markaitken1 karma

It might be because I'm a better film maker than a salesman. The film will be finished but it will take longer as these things do when there's no money. But then I'm not sure that Kickstarter is all about the money. I've gained a lot of support that will grow as the film does. Saying that - we need money!

gapmunky1 karma

How do they survive with food and such?

markaitken1 karma

Food is donated - there's a scene in the film that covers this. A lot of the food is waste though so it's well past its sell by date.

-TheNarwhal1 karma

So......what was that "miraculous discovery"?

elpastor1 karma

My name is Jose Antonio Galvan.Fundador of Vision in Action Rescue Mission BC, and I Thanks to Mark Atkins for the documentary that is underway, and the $ 3,000.00 dollars that has contributed to the community of 120 mental patients there live there. maintenance cost is $ 39.000.00 per month. cooked 360 meals a day for 365 days a year. I want to thank the world community for the support it can give to Mark, because conosco of your situation and desire to achieve their dream of this documentary .... for people who want to cooperate with this ministry compacion can do to beams of Mark.pues avalo his honesty and work on behalf of the marginalized classes! ........ Thanks Mark!.....This is a Video of what we'r doin'in Juarez.......

markaitken1 karma

Pastor - we're going to do it one way or another!

captain_cabinets11 karma

was it complete chaos or was there order and a chain of command and stuff like that

markaitken1 karma

I'd call it managed chaos. There are helpers who are all patients but they have privileges and their own rooms. Of course, there's the founder, Pastor Galvan who raises money to keep the place going.

MooseAtWork1 karma

Have you heard of this Venezuelan prison before? Would you consider doing a documentary about it too?

markaitken1 karma

Yes, i have heard of that prison and thought about going there with a camera. It would take time to build trust though...

helpbytshirt1 karma

I wish you the best of luck with your project. The story of the family re-united by accident is heartwarming. Unfortunately I don't have any disposable income right now, but if I had, I would contribute to your Kickstarter asap.

markaitken1 karma

Thanks for your encouragement. If possible please spread the word on any social media you use - this is also about building an audience. Feel free to send an email to mark(at) if you want to join the mailing list.

make_me_rawr1 karma

Great work! I am really interestted in getting into documentary film making. How did you get started? Any advice?

markaitken2 karma

Well I teach film making to stay afloat so I have lots of advice. But to keep it brief: take your time when choosing a subject as it's a big commitment to yourself and whoever/whatever you film. Make sure it's rich and full of feeling. If you need to offer people information then don't bother making a film - just write an article - it's much easier.

Here's a manifesto I compiled a while back...

  1. You have to know the rules to break them but you should always make up your own rules.

  2. Trust your intuition. You need to use your brain before and after filming but not during it.

  3. Seek the extraordinary in everyday objects – richness in the banal. Question why pain, suffering and violence are popular subjects for films.

  4. If you’re going to interview someone then allow them to talk about anything they want to talk about – this way they’ll reveal more about themselves.

  5. Why make a film? Don’t film if you can live without filming - just write it or say it. If you want to say something then film someone not talking. Film only if you want to show something. This concerns every single shot within the film.

  6. If you already knew your message before filming – just become a teacher. Don’t try to save the world or change the world. Better if your film changes you. Discover both the world and yourself while filming.

  7. Film when you aren’t sure if you hate or love your subject. Doubts are crucial for making art.

  8. Try not to force people to repeat actions or words. Life is unrepeatable and unpredictable. Remember that the very best moments are unrepeatable in life as in film.

  9. Film are films – stories are stories. Think what the viewers will feel when seeing your shots. Then, form a dramatic structure using the changes in their feelings. Find a film – not a story.

  10. Not working is only the build up to working. There is nothing more important than your own work but never feel bad about not working.

  11. Believe that editing is the most fun you will ever have.

  12. At the end of working each day – ask yourself what you’re curious about – what do you need to know? Keep a record of this and refer back to it so as to understand your work process.

Compiled and culled from thoughts by Mark Aitken, Victor Kossakovsky and David Wingate (all documentary film makers)

make_me_rawr1 karma

Great advice, thank you so much! I will be sure to save this and keep in mind! If you don't mind me asking more questions: My background is in Sociology, my partner is in Business and English Literature/Writing. We don't have filming background, nor do we have a camera. 1) Is there a particular affordable camera that you might recommend? 2) Is it pointless to just jump into it and learn as we go, or should we be saving money for documentary workshops or film school? We don't have money for both a camera and lessons, so we are trying prioritize what would be most beneficial at this point. Thanks!

markaitken1 karma

I'd get a camera that takes XLR mic jacks - you need good sound. Make some short films - film school is expensive! Watch lots of films. Ok - enough advice for now.

Jonathan-Crane1 karma

What are specific differences you see in these patients and patients in other, original asylums (assuming you have been to others)?

markaitken1 karma

I haven't been to others but I guess they have a lot more resources in terms of staff and medication. But I hear that little empathy is employed in mental health in general and I think that having mental health problems yourself helps in caring for others who do as well. What's odd is that empathy treatment is viewed as progressive while in this asylum it's all they have.

Ylsid-1 karma

So what's the miraculous discovery then?

Ylsid1 karma

this looks fascinating

markaitken1 karma

Thanks - a happy story from a hard place. We got lucky but I still need to complete the edit.

markaitken1 karma