The Bird Dancer is part of a series of ethnographic films on severe mental illness in Indonesia, based on material drawn from 12 years of person-centered research by director and anthropologist Robert Lemelson.
The film focuses on Gusti Ayu Suartini, a young Balinese woman living with Tourette’s syndrome. Members of Gusti’s small rural community, who do not recognize her illness as a medical disorder, regard her with scorn or pity. Mired in loneliness, Gusti begins to question the meaningfulness of her existence after treatment by western and traditional practitioners fails. The film, which follows her slow, painful, and courageous effort to create an independent life for herself outside her village, addresses the profound impact of family and community’s acceptance or rejection on the lifecourse of persons living with a neuropsychiatric disorder. The Bird Dancer focuses on the social stigma of neuropsychiatric disorder and the human suffering it entails.