A soon-to-be-released documentary feature, Kings Park offers an inside look at public mental health care in America by focusing on the story of this now abandoned institution. The journey back begins with Lucy’s sudden decision, on the cusp of her fiftieth birthday, to return to Kings Park for the first time in over thirty years. Determined to face her past and come to terms with her commitment to the state hospital, Lucy’s goals are purely personal when the film begins. She soon learns, however, that in order to fully understand her own story, she needs to somehow learn about the institutional world in which she was once locked away. To this end, Lucy seeks out other former patients, their families, and hospital staff, who share intimate accounts of life at Kings Park. Shot on the overgrown and sprawling grounds of the shuttered hospital, these firsthand accounts of a vanishing world bear witness to the many changes in treatment, policy and attitudes over the past century.
The film culminates with a vision of today. Stories are shared of the often brutally executed “emptying out” of the hospital, and we follow Lucy in her effort to see how mental health care has changed since the hospital’s close. Scenes shot at small mental health care centers, committed to the recovery of their members despite limited resources, let us see the kind of progress that is being made. In contrast, footage shot at the local jail reveals a very different reality – where the penal system has replaced the state hospital as the default “provider” for people with serious mental illness.