This film is part of Free

Day 359

An unusual, experimental documentary filmed over Christmas at South Ockenden Psychiatric Hospital, Essex.

1971 23 mins



Day 359 is 25th December: Christmas. This curious, highly unusual film gives us an impression of how the day is spent by staff and residents of South Ockenden’s psychiatric hospital. Known locally as “The Colony” it was one of the NHS’ largest centres for patients with learning difficulties and mental health problems. Christmas, sadly, was often the highlight of the year for residents incarcerated in large "mental handicap" hospitals. Following an enquiry into institutional abuse at Ely Hospital in Cardiff in the early 1970s, almost all these institutions have now been closed down.

ie Films was the name for a pair of professional filmmakers, whose day jobs were at the National Coal Board’s Film Unit, making educational and charity films in their own time. Their South Ockenden film has a strange but fascinating low-budget, experimental feel marked by jerky camerawork, jarring edits and pieces of prose and poetry read over the images. What is the film saying about disability, institutions and seasonal celebrations? It’s not entirely obvious but the contrast with conventional feel-good films for good causes is intriguing and refreshing.