Filmmaker Nick Aldridge’s latest project is a documentary on male mental health entitled The Men And The Chair In Front Of My Window. It’s a film born out of a personal journey Aldridge went on during a break from directing and working mostly as a DoP. The filmmaker was at a point in his life where he felt like he was internalising a lot of his darker thoughts and it got him contemplating how other people were managing similar feelings. These thoughts formed the kernel of Aldridge’s film, which takes an intimate look at men and the internal struggles they face. It really is an incredibly powerful piece of work, taking intimate conversations between men and putting them in front of audiences in hopes of starting a wider discussion. DN spoke with Aldridge ahead of today’s premiere about the film’s personal and organic inception, the significance of its street-set location, and the equipment he used to record these private moments of vulnerability.

What was the journey that led you to make The Men And The Chair In Front Of My Window?

I had some pretty difficult experiences during the making of my previous films which led to me taking a break from directing documentaries for a while and working solely as a DoP. I’d been treated quite poorly on one production to the extent I had a panic attack in which an ambulance was called. Another of the documentaries I was directing during this time followed someone that I became really close friends with. Sadly, after working with them on the documentary for three years, they passed away while I was filming them.

My mind would often go to quite dark places after these experiences as I contemplated the effect they’d had on my mental health. I would find myself sitting at the window in the flat I was renting with my girlfriend and reflecting on things. Whilst sitting there watching the world go by, I’d often look down at the street and see people sitting on the chair that is seen in the film. The people sitting there would often be deep in thought, just like I was. I also noticed that they were often completely ignored by the people walking past them.

What was it that motivated you to speak to some of those people who were sitting on that chair?

In my lowest moments I longed to be able to open up, but rarely could bring myself to and hid my struggles from those around me. So, one day I decided to take my camera down and ask the young man who was sitting on the chair what he was thinking about. I wanted to see if he was struggling like I was, but could open up in a way I couldn’t. It is the first interview that appears in the film and as you can see, he did.

I wanted to see if he was struggling like I was, but could open up in a way I couldn’t.

The conversation went on for much longer than the section that appears in the film. At the end of our chat, the young man commented on the fact that he’d never spoken about his mental health in such a way before. It made me realise that there was something in it as a project and that it was one that made me feel comfortable with directing again. I decided to call Natasha Coleman, the producer that I work and collaborate with frequently and explained what I’d filmed. Together we started to develop the film, figuring out the form it would take, and what its purpose should be.

What conversations were you having with Natasha about shaping the film?

From the start, Natasha was pushing for me to make a film solely about men. I fought this for quite a while, and I did interview a number of women talking about their mental health. Those conversations were great. However, after I was shown some of the staggering statistics, some of which appear in the film, on the mental health pandemic in respect to men, my thinking in regards to the film and what it was really about began to shift.

Making the film made me reflect on my own experiences and the barriers that I encountered in accessing mental health resources. I was hit by a speeding car at the age of 17 which resulted in really serious injuries, some of which I still receive treatment for now over 20 years later. The accident led to me suffering quite deep depression, for which I was never offered help. Even if we had known how to access this help, I doubt my family could have afforded sustained therapy anyway. I realised Natasha’s suggestion would enable me to make a film that subtly speaks to these barriers and speaks to the need for a cultural shift in men.

Making the film made me reflect on my own experiences and the barriers that I encountered in accessing mental health resources.

Did you ever expand the in-person filming crew beyond yourself?

Due to the nature of the film’s concept, I shot it entirely on my own, as it is in front of my window and based around interviews with whoever chose to sit there, so it would be impossible for Natasha to come round in time. However, it was possible for us to meet frequently over the course of filming to talk over and develop the themes of the documentary and shape how as a film it could flow. Together, we decided to base it around interviews filmed over a year. This allowed us to get the changing of the seasons on camera and capture a broad enough range of interviews so as to tell a rounded story.

What did you find significant about the location of that chair outside your window?

The location developed an added importance to me. The busy nature of the street shows men opening up in a place where there are multitudes of other men working around them, amongst these is even a man holding a piece of wood with “Help Me” scrawled across it. These shots of working men are a, not particularly subtle, metaphor for the men ‘doing the work’ by talking on the chair.

My hope is that the documentary shows that talking about our problems can be, and I’d argue should be, a normal thing for men to do.

What effect are you hoping The Men And The Chair In Front Of My Window will have on audience members who watch it?

By filming the men talking in such a bustling environment my hope is that the documentary shows that talking about our problems can be, and I’d argue should be, a normal thing for men to do. That it is OK, and important, to be vulnerable without judgement. I think that such a cultural shift could help so many wider societal issues that are caused by men.

What kit were you using to capture the intimacy of the conversations?

I shot the entire film on a Sony FX9 with Zeiss Otus prime lenses. I use a Cinesaddle because of mobility issues caused by the aforementioned accident. This helped keep the camerawork steady. A week after I finished shooting this film all my equipment was actually stolen so I really couldn’t film anything more for this project and I knew it had come to an end. The final interview felt perfect to me as it was.

You screened at the House of Lords this week, how did that come about? Why do you think it’s important both for the film and the issue of male mental health that the film is seen by that audience?

Good question! I’m not 100% sure how it came about. The screening has been arranged by Love Brother as part of their campaign launch. They saw the film and thought it would be a great way to begin their work. I think it is important to take the film to different audiences, both those with the power to make mental health policy change as funding is so inadequate, particularly in regards to preventative measures, and members of the public who can hopefully see themselves in the men featured in the film. The documentary is intended to be the start of, or part of, a conversation more than anything else.

The suicide rate in men has barely changed in 30 years. It is the most common cause of death on building sites, far ahead of accidents, more than twice as many die by suicide as homicide and 75% of suicides are by men. It’s a really desperate situation, the lack of funding for proper mental health care all over the world is absolutely staggering. Mental health crosses barriers of gender, wealth, race… it is who we are. Showing the film and providing people with the space to talk is what it is all about.

Will you be venturing into more directing again anytime soon? What else have you got on the horizon?

At the moment I am developing a few ideas, one is on a group therapy project in Utah and the other is around the issue of toxic air. But to be honest I’m trying to figure out how I can financially survive the process. Before the BBC came on board for the film I directed that eventually became a Storyville (Hillsong Church: God Goes Viral), I was sleeping on friends’ floors and sofas. The financial stress, on top of losing my good friend and two family members during that production, was really tough. I love making films, but the industry is in a really bad place in my opinion. It is finally addressing the issue of representation, but more work needs to be done to recognise economic background when it comes to funding application processes.

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