Book launch & screening

Book launch and London Screening - Oct 20th.


We're very proud to announce the release of Mark Aitken's diarised account of filming in a mental asylum run by it's own patients.


Asylum from the Madness - The making of the film 'Dead when I got here'.


'Told with candour, 'Asylum from the Madness' is about learning to dispense with charitable pity. It is about realising how useless our cosseted lives and values are in the face of raw survival. This book is inspiration for living that is less diluted, more essential.' 


Buy a copy here:

Book tickets to the London Screening here:…




Nominee for One World Media Awards 2016

Dead when I got here has been nominated for best documentary at the One World media Awards 2016. We're up against strong competition but it's good company to be in. Fingers crossed. We hear the results in June.

Goldsmiths University of London Screening 18 March


Big Sky Documentary Festival - Official Selection 19 - 28th Feb, USA


Asylum from the madness - radio show

Radio show on London arts station Resonance fm with Mark Aitken reading from the book Asylum from the Madness - the making of the film Dead when I got here.



Those of you who have seen the film will recognise this image - taken on Christmas day 2012.


2015 has been an amazing year with many screenings, an award and the DVD release. The real value of all the work now evident as audiences experience the film. In 2016 we're employing a distributor in the US and we're screening in Montana early in the year. The book is ready for publication so more to follow... thanks to everyone for your support and wishing you a happy 2016.


London Ritzy Screening sell out success

Doc Connection London hosted a great screening and the DVD launch of Dead when I got here last Monday night. The cinema was packed and everyone stayed for an electrifying Q&A. A video will be posted soon but here's some stills for now...



We're extremely proud to launch the deluxe two disc edition of the feature documentary, Dead when I got here. Most crowdfunder investors will have already received their copies. A streamed version will shortly be available to smaller investors.

Since June this year, the film has screened at nine international festivals, won the Grand Jury prize at the Scottish Mental Health Film Festival and received a Special Mention at Docs DF, Mexico. Five other special screenings have taken place and the film was broadcast in the Netherlands and Finland. More screenings and events are planned for 2016. Distribution deals are afoot. It's safe to say that after over four years work, the film is a success!   

A masterpiece, epic and intimate - THE OBSERVER

Tickets to celebrate the DVD launch here

Order a DVD here

Academic edition here

More to follow next year when the book, Asylum from the Madness is published. Please get in touch if you want to suggest or host screenings.

Thanks for your interest and support over the years.



Winner - Jury prize Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival

Director Mark Aitken receiving the award. Here's what they said at the festival...

Made with integrity and compassion, DEAD WHEN I GOT HERE is a privilege to watch. Bathed in light despite the darkness of the subject matter and with a closing image as beautiful as anything you will find in Bresson or Tarkovsky, it is one of the finest examples of documentary filmmaking I've ever seen.

Scott Graham, Writer/Director (SHELL, IONA)

A bold and searing portrait of an unlikely survivor, Mark Aitken's compelling documentary shows that 'life on the edge' can also be right at the heart of humanity.

Richard Warden

Film Curator, Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival

and a link to the awards -


Gripping and Tender - Brilliant review in The Lancet magazine


Upcoming screenings in Scotland and Mexico in October

If you're in Glasgow on October 15th then here is the place to be...


OR, if you're in Mexico City on Oct 16, 17, 18, 19 then DocsDF are screening DWIGH...


Film festivals are like buses

Festivals seem to be like buses. After a long wait we've had six requests for screenings of DWIGH in October. These include being in competition at Docs DF in Mexico and Leipzig in Germany. And although we're sworn to keep quiet about it til mid Sept, we also won the grand jury award at a festival in Scotland in October. More to follow - including the DVD and book release soon.


Screening at Mental Health Association of Portland, USA

Last night we screened in Portland, Oregon with a Skype Q&A from director, Mark Aitken in London. The audience were all mental health professionals fascinated by the in depth access to the asylum in Juárez portrayed in the film. 


Medfest at Royal College of Psychiatrists

An excerpt from Dead when I got here has screened all over the world as part of the Medfest programme that specialises in films on mental health aimed at psychiatrists. On the 26th June, the final event occurred at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, London. 

Here the panel includes Niall Boyce (editor of the Lancet), Sir Simon Wessely (President of the Royal College), Erminia Colucci (film maker) and Mark Aitken. 


London Frontline Club

Another sell out event and this time with writer Ed Vulliamy, whose book Amexica was the initial inspiration for the film. There's a link to the Q & A with director Mark Aitken here.


San Francisco Docfest Premiere

A warm and enthusiastic audience attended the first of two screenings last night. Here's one of the responses...

We were fortunate enough to see the US premiere screening of this incredible film here in San Francisco this evening, which tells the tale of a mental asylum in Juarez, run by it's own inmates. One of the most powerful and thought provoking films I have ever seen. Love and hope can spring from the strangest of places.


Screenings in the borderlands...


Upcoming screenings - all with Director Q&A


6.06 - Mesilla Valley, New Mexico

7.06 - Vision en Accion - screening of the film to the patients in the asylum

12/13.06 - San Francisco DocFest


22.06 - Frontline Club, London


New Year Teaser

It's been a long year of waiting. Post production was finally completed in October and the film has been entered into 16 film festivals around the world. Festivals act as shop windows so let's hope the programmers like the film. Two TV sales have been made to Dutch and Finnish channels and they'll broadcast sometime in 2015.

In the meantime, a book has been written about the making of the film and a new website is up and running. Please have a look around.

Lastly, here's a short teaser of things to come. The clip shows Josué waiting behind a hotel door for his daughter. They waited 22 years for this moment. I hope we can all wait a little longer to see what happens.

Happy 2015! 


Post-Production complete!

The sound mix on Dead when I got here is complete!  The picture is graded!  3 years and five days of hard work.  The film is now being entered into international festivals for 2015.  You'll be the first to know about screenings, online streams and DVDs.     


Chuck Bowden 1945 - 2014

On 30th August, Chuck Bowden, my good friend and collaborator on 'Dead when I got here' died. Chuck has been writing about Juárez for the past twenty years, disseminating clarity and compassion on a brutal world made more opaque by official excuses and ignorance. 

His book, 'Murder City' inspired the film and it's with deep sadness that I couldn't complete the work before he passed. I'm privileged to have known the man. 

Chuck said of the film, ' is about finally feeling the full dimensions of what it means to be human and what it costs to face that meaning.'


Chuck explored these dimensions more than most. 


Picture edit completed

Between 27th January and 2nd May, Editor Sibila Estruch and myself considered what film to make with 73 hours of footage. When we started the sun set at 4pm. The sky turned and eventually the sun set at 8.30pm. We arrived at a 73 minute cut and locked the picture.


The next stage is to clean up and edit the sound; record and add music and mix it altogether. We’re aiming to complete by the end of summer.


Thanks for your patience. From where we’re sitting, this is definitely a film that’s worth waiting for.


Mark Aitken


Preview scenes screening 21st March, Las Cruces, New Mexico with special guests


Sneak preview at Goldsmiths University, London

Thanks to everyone who attended the photo exhibition and screening at Goldsmiths University in London on the 8th November 2013. We screened 20 minutes of scenes from the rough cut which provoked much discussion that was very encouraging.


Our supporters


We raised £10 521! Thankyou

By midnight last night be hit our £10 000 target! Many thanks for your support and patience with these emails filling your inboxes over the past month. Your generosity and encouragement means that this film will be completed by the end of the year and you’ll be the first to know about it.


British Director Alex Cox recently succeeded in a crowdfunding campaign for a new film.  He says, ‘… a film – can be made good, and fast, but not cheap; fast, and cheap, but not good; or good, and cheap, but not fast. A quality independent film aims for the last of these three.’


Dead when I got here has been independently funded over the past two years. Every care will be taken to produce a film that shows the incredible resilience and courage of the people who have found asylum from the most violent city in the world.


Thanks again,
Mark Aitken, Producer/Director
y 120 Pelos Duros de Juarez


Last hours of Kickstarter Campaign

We’re near the end of our campaign.  Since our live soundtrack event last week we’ve doubled our money.  If we can raise another £2K before midnight Wednesday 26th we’ll receive £5K match funding from a donor and hit our target.  That’s 100 people donating £20 each.  Can you afford that?  Do you know someone who can?  Any support much appreciated for this important film that’s already changed people’s lives.


News report from London’s Brixton Blog

Luke Massey reports on local film maker Mark Aitken in the Brixton Blog – south London’s finest local newspaper.  Read it here.


Report on the film in Latina Lista

It’s with those words that filmmaker Mark Aitken describes his journey into
one of the most bizarre places on the planet — the Vision & Action mental
asylum on the outskirts of Juarez, Mexico. The place is bizarre not because
of the patients who call …


Director’s Diary Extract – 21.12.12

21st December – Friday
According to the Mayans, this is the day the world will end.  I think the world ended sometime ago in Juárez but here they are persisting regardless.  Chuck Bowden says it all just in the title of his book: ‘Some of the dead are still breathing’.  I’m now coughing all the time in fits and my chest and throat are burning.  It’s hard to hold the camera steady.  Each night I’ve added blankets to my bed.  I’m under six at this point and still shivering with teeth chattering.  I must have a fever but I don’t want to know about it.

We drive into town and shoot a scene where Josué picks up some shoes he’s going to wear when he meets his daughter after 22 years.  He tells the cobbler the story and the man shows off his latest line of cowboy boots.  The things have long extended toes just like the boots in Kaurismäki’sLeningrad Cowboys.  I’ve no idea how you’re supposed to walk in them.


We then go to Josué’s old neighbourhood and film him talking to old friends.  They’re actually the same age as Josué but all look like the next generation up from him.  The erosion of drugs and alcohol.  They try and hit on him for a bottle of Jalapeño liquor.

His friend’s house looks like a building site and once inside, everything is in one room.  Exactly like many houses in Africa I’ve visited and we were treated with the same warmth.  Josué discovers that nearly everyone he used to know is dead.  I do a single take of them talking that lasts just over an hour.


We hang out on the streets that Josué used to sleep in and I look for evidence that connects the past with the present.  We all eat at a takeaway stall.  I keep ordering the wrong food as I don’t like red meat.  John has no trouble putting away the unwanted dishes.  I’ve noticed that sound recordists like to eat a lot.


Exclusive: Where the inmates really do run the asylum

In 2011 I set off with a camera to explore a mental asylum in Mexico run by its own patients. The place is just beyond the last junkyard on the curdled fringe of Juárez, the world’s most violent city. On one level these people shared common purpose in that they dressed each other, cleaned each other, fed each other. But then there were many other levels, many other worlds. The tragicomedy of Beckett was everywhere, I can’t go on, I’ll go on, while the infantile grotesqueness of Jarry’s Ubu Roi was never far away. The more I filmed, the less I understood and the more curious I became.


I met a man called Josué who was managing the asylum. Five years previously he’d lost his mind and the ability to walk but I found him in a reflective mood. He told me his dream. After two visits and many hours of material my editing was frustrated by a desire to present the mystery I’d encountered while needing a story to hang it on. Then Josué’s dream came true. His daughter in LA emailed me to ask what her father was doing in a mental asylum. She’d seen a trailer for the film I’d posted online. She hadn’t seen her father in 22 years and had been told he was dead. Two more visits and I managed to put Josué and his daughter together and filmed the reunion.


The film, titled Dead When I Got Here, is due to be finished later this year and we’ve launched a Kickstarter to help fund its completion.

Below is an exclusive excerpt from my diary during the last shoot at the asylum.


20th December 2012 - Thursday

I asked Josué how he was feeling. He’s had injections of some potent anti-biotic in his backside and he’s now back on his feet. I know I’m coming down with something and I think I know where I got it from. We talked about the weather and then he mentioned that someone had died last night. Apparently death visits in threes here and this is the third in six days.


The police are called and a group of county officers roll up as if from central casting. There’s a tall one, a short one, a fat one with attitude and a thoughtful one. They’re all tooled up with big black sub-machine guns and I’m waiting for them to tell me to stop filming. The only time they ever come here is when they want to dump some human detritus from the street or when someone dies. Death needs to be defined as suspicious or natural. Suspicious is where these guys come in. Where the natural causes lie here, God only knows.


Eventually, the fat officer wants to know why there’s a camera in his face. I explain with Josué backing me and all is well. They’re giving Josué a hard time about people dying here without having any professionals around to run the place. By professionals I assume they mean people like themselves. They work in a city that records eight murders a day and no one is ever arrested. In El Paso just across the line there was one murder last year. They caught the guy.


Josué lets on to the police that he was nearly dead when he arrived here and there’s no one quite as qualified as himself and everyone else here to run this asylum. People are dying because of the cold. They’re weak. They’re mentally ill. The police take their medicine and listen. It’s a beautiful scene.


We then rush off to find the family of the deceased man. None of their phone numbers worked but Josué eventually found an address. He’s very agitated. We pull off the main road, ask directions and arrive at the colonia and meet the mother. Josué shares the burden and the mother cries. She insists on being taken to the asylum to see her son. On the journey back the dossier on the son shivers on the vibrating dashboard. His photo is reflected in the windscreen as an apparition.


Back at the asylum the woman’s son has already been taken away to the morgue. He had lived here since it opened 17 years ago. I guess that made him some sort of mascot. She walks around the patio and then waits at the gate for a lift home. I film her weeping from some ancient well of hopelessness. She seems to get smaller as the shadows get longer around her.


With the knife-edge desert cold the patients hardly come out of their rooms. I film a scene where a door is opened to the main room inhabited by men. They’re passed bowls of soup and they all clamber at the entrance, grunting and growling and clawing at the food. It looks like they haven’t eaten for days yet I know they’re actually receiving seconds after lunch. I think it’s because they’re always worried that every meal might be their last. No matter how regular the servings, nothing will ever change that memory of hunger.


It’s a great single shot and John on sound was mesmerised. I shoot until the door is closed and locked on them. What I don’t see is the herd of dogs licking up spillage at the foot of the doorway. Shots like these are hypnotic and everything vanishes outside the myopia. How I put a shot like this in the film is another thing. I want to convey my encounter with what I saw and not attempt to explain it. It’s a vision of hunger and how it makes people behave. Or maybe it simply serves as a reminder of our almost indestructible instinct to survive. Yet I suspect it will offend many people who will be outraged at how these people are treated. I also know that they would all be dead if they weren’t in this asylum. There aren’t any other options. The people who will complain about this are telling us that they care. This feeds nothing but their own conscience. It’s as if caring is an end in itself. I think we have a lot to learn from these hungry people.


Characters of the film #3

Dr Vicente Patoja works full time as a psychiatrist at the central prison in Juárez and volunteers one day a week to diagnose and prescribe medicine to patients at the mental asylum.  Patients are picked up from the charnel house of Juárez and dumped at the asylum by police, immigration, families and social workers. Vicente navigates through the confusion of people who can’t remember their names; who don’t know where they’re from; who can’t escape their nightmares.  Drugs are available on an ad hoc basis and when they run out, the doctors work unravels. Patients are encouraged to help each other find paths for recovery.  Empathy and compassion are available in unlimited supply in the mental asylum run by its own patients.


Characters from the film #2

Somewhere on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – the border town now darkly infamous as the world’s most violent city – sits an asylum for the mentally ill and indigent. It’s run by a local man, José Antonio Galván, aka El Pastor – painter, activist and savior. In the words of author Charles Bowden – who has written extensively about the horrors taking place just south of Texas – the man responsible for this small refuge amid chaos and danger, “is an ex-street addict, ex-convict and a full-time healer in a city of pain. He sells love in a city of death, Ciudad Juarez, demonstrably the most violent city on Earth. He expects to be murdered; he prays he will not be tortured first … Now he has begun to paint, and his pictures are not pretty, but they are searing.”  (from an article in City Weekly by Jacob Stringer)


Characters from the film #1

Josué Rosales explains to a forensic doctor how a patient died the previous night during the final shoot last December.  Bare resources offer little comfort to the frail and the desert cold is simply too much.


Six years ago Josué was nearly dead on arrival at the asylum – unable to walk and infested with gangrene.  Now he manages the place and does his best to keep people alive.


Article in ELECTRIC SHEEP magazine

Director Mark Aitken offers some insight into the making of the film.


Live soundtrack event London 21.06.13

This one-off event will feature edits from the film Dead when I got here projected on two screens with a live improvised soundtrack. This version will later be made available on a special edition DVD but better to catch it performed live with these great musicians.




+ Q&A with director Mark AITKEN

8pm, Apiary Studios, 458 Hackney Rd, E2, Admission: £5


Docs Barcelona 2013

Dead when I got here has been invited to the pitching forum at Docs Barcelona Festival at the end of May.  235 projects were submitted from 37 countries and 25 were selected.  Some of the films are still at early stages while ours is ready for post-production.  We need financial support to pay for the edit and completion.


Director/Producer Mark Aitken will be pitching the film to broadcasters, distributors, fund managers and sales agents.  Let’s hope they can offer something more than encouragement.


Reunited after 22 years

In April 2012 during the second visit to the asylum I asked Josué what his dream for the future might be.  Would he ever leave the asylum?  Did he have any unfinished business?  He told me of his daughter in California.  They hadn’t seen each other in 22 years.  He had no idea where she was.  Josué’s dream was to see her again one day.  He told me it would be sometime soon.  I wrote down her name and told Josué I’d look on the Internet.  I didn’t think I’d have much luck.


On Friday 13th July I was editing the recording of Josué’s dream.  I’d considered going to California to look for his daughter.  Having been deported form the US, Josué wouldn’t be able to accompany me but searching and maybe even finding the daughter could become part of the film.  I also considered the cost and thought better of it.  Let the idea remain as Josué’s dream.  That night I received the following email via the website…

I sent an email straight back and waited up to make a Skype call to LA.  I then had to get hold of Josué.  Somehow I’d become the catalyst for bringing a father and daughter together.  I wanted to be everywhere at once to film their first contact but I had to make do with Skype calls to both of them.  Vanessa said it was all like a dream.  She had been told her father was dead but had never given up searching – even if only for whereabouts of his remains.  Finding him on a film trailer wandering around a mental asylum run by its own patients came as something of a shock.


It took me two months to find the money and time to get over to LA to visit Vanessa.  She filled me in on all the history of her shattered family but showed no signs of resentment.  She was just happy that her father was alive.  We went through old photo albums and she showed me the picture of Josué holding her 22 years ago.  She always carried the picture with her.  We wondered how they could see each other again.  Vanessa didn’t have a passport.  Josué couldn’t enter the US.  I promised that somehow we’d arrange a reunion.