It’s 2018, and Belgian theater director Tom Struyf finds himself by chance in Willard, a tiny hamlet in New York State whose only street ends at a vast lake. On one side of the street stand wooden houses that have clearly seen better days. On the other stands the ruin of the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane.
Over time, Struyf becomes obsessed by Willard and its inhabitants—even more so when he learns that the progressive approach of the asylum’s founder, Dorothea Dix, was inspired by psychiatric care practiced in the Belgian city of Geel. There, patients were cared for together with their families. Stuyf returns to Willard several times, to talk to people and to shoot film. And in the course of discovering the contemporary legacies of social, economic and even ecological histories, the project becomes ever more entwined with his personal life.
Struyf’s interpretation of this unexpected proximity takes the form of an intimate performance, with the audience seated around a scale model of Willard. In his role as storyteller-performer, he walks among them, talking about the documentary footage as it is projected.
IDFA on Stage: Finding Willard is a co-presentation of IDFA and Vlaams Cultuurhuis De Brakke Grond.