A filmmaker and practicing psychiatrist makes rounds in ERs, jails, and homeless camps to tell the intimate stories behind a national health crisis: mental illness.

mother holding child at hospital
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
April 13, 2020
90 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2021 duPont Awards-Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award
  • Producer/Director

    Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, MD

    Ken Rosenberg has been making award-winning documentaries for over thirty years. Aired on PBS, he co-produced and co-directed (with Ruth Neuwald Falcon) An Alzheimer’s Story and directed and produced Through Madness. For HBO, he produced and directed Coming Out In America (Oscar short list), Back from Madness, Drinking Apart, and Executive-Produced Show more the Peabody Award-winning Cancer: Evolution To Revolution. A practicing psychiatrist and author of medical textbooks, his films have been recognized by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the New England Journal of Medicine, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Show less


    Peter Miller

    Peter Miller’s award-winning documentaries include A.K.A. Doc Pomus, Jews and Baseball, Sacco and Vanzetti, Projections of America, The Internationale (Oscar short list), among others. With Carlos Sandoval, he directed and produced A Class Apart for PBS American Experience, which is being made into a feature film executive produced by Eva Longoria. Show more He has also been a producer on acclaimed documentaries including Passin’ it On, for POV, the Academy Award-winning American Dream, and numerous PBS programs by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, including The War, Jazz, and the Peabody Award-winning Frank Lloyd Wright. Show less

    Other ITVS Films
    A Class Apart
    Passin' It On

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    The Film

    Haunted by the death of a mentally ill sister, psychiatrist Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, M.D. takes on the role of filmmaker to examine a national health crisis. Bedlam follows the poignant stories of people grappling with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other chronic psychiatric conditions. Impossible to mask when untreated, their symptoms shove them into the path of police officers, ER doctors and nurses, lawyers, and prison guards. Shooting over the course of five years, Rosenberg takes us inside Los Angeles County’s overwhelmed and vastly under-resourced psych ER, a nearby jail warehousing thousands of psychiatric patients, and the homes — and homeless encampments — of people suffering from severe mental illness, where silence and shame often worsen the suffering. Bedlam describes the triggers pulled in the mid- and late 20th century to create this bedlam on a national scale. Massive federal defunding shuttered mental institutions across the country from the 1950s to the 1980s, leaving a skeletal support system in their place. Untold numbers of mentally ill people landed on the streets and, inevitably, stumbled on the cracks in American society that have led to misuse of jails, tens of thousands of people sleeping in parks and on sidewalks, and too many stories of loved ones lost while the clock ticks on solutions from policy makers and Big Pharma.