About the Film

Donate Button with Credit Cards
Breaking the Chains is an ethnographic photo/film-documentary project about human rights violations against people with mentally illness (Director, cinematography, sound, editing by Erminia Colucci).

It consists of a photo-essay and three documentaries: ‘Breaking the chains’  (65 min, official release 2015), ‘Breaking the chains: Anto’s story’ (2020) and ‘Breaking the chains: Human rights abuses against the mentally ill’ (currently in production).
ABC NEWS about ‘Breaking the chains’

Read the ABC news about the film here.


THE EDUCATIONAL LICENSE COSTS AU$185 (DVD AND ONLINE FOR UNLIMITED USE WITHIN THE SAME INSTITUTION)  (e.g. libraries, hospitals, schools and university departments). Please go to CONTACT for inquiries and purchases.


For screening information please see our Upcoming Events page

‘Breaking the chains’ depicts the use of physical restraint and confinement of people with mental illness in Indonesia, a practice known as pasung in this country but widespread also in other low-middle income countries.

‘Breaking the chains’ contributes to an understanding of pasung, the reasons behind its practice, the issues that must be overcome and the social and political activism needed to eradicate this form of human rights abuse in countries all over the world.

The practice of physically restraining people with a mental illness by members of family or the community, almost invariably with no adequate treatment and always against their will, contravenes basic human rights principles. As result of this practice, thousands of people are estimated to live in isolation, chained, and/or inside “animal cages”, naked, undernourished and often living in their own excrement. The mental and physical consequences of these conditions (e.g. some people lose the ability to walk as result) are enormous.

Among the low-middle income countries with similar restraints, Indonesia is unique for having planned to scaling up the Bebas Pasung (Free from Pasung) program at a national level. This program, which locates and releases victims of pasung and arranges treatment, represents a major mental health and human rights advance. Indonesia’s Ministry of Health has also committed to ending pasung throughout the country by 2015.

Pasung has until now remained largely undocumented by the international media. ‘Breaking the Chains’ is a first of its kind documentary which situates pasung in the socio-cultural-political situation of Indonesia and gives voice to people with a mental illness in Indonesia and throughout the world who are living under similar restraints.

The documentary also tells an original story about the social and political activism being carried out at several levels (from consumer volunteer organizations, to the pasung survivors and their communities) in order to eradicate this form of human rights abuse and give freedom and dignity to people with a mental illness.

By showcasing the current social and political activism happening in Indonesia, ‘Breaking the Chains’ aims to stimulate and encourage movement and reaction, not only in other countries around the world where similar practices that deny the basic human rights and promote abuses are presently occurring, but also intends to increase awareness and stimulate action and advocacy for human rights on a global level.


‘Breaking the chains: Anto’s story is a testimony-style collaborative short-documentary that depicts the subjective lived experience of Anto, a young man who was restrained but was then released and reintegrated in the community as a self-taught artist and English student. This film was co-directed and co-edited with Anto. You can also read a joint paper about his experience and a blog about this participatory video  


In ‘Breaking the chains: Human rights abuses against the mentally ill’ experts present the issue of human rights and mental health on the international scene (in progress).

The ‘Breaking the chains’ project is a collaboration with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology and the Centre for International Mental Health (The University of Melbourne).

Buy now

All profits made will go towards continuing the Breaking the chains series and towards the campaign for the defence of the human rights of people with mental illness. Please help!

Download ‘Breaking the Chains’ PRESS KIT

Read the article on Breaking the chains in Lancet Psychiatry

Donate Button with Credit Cards


In addition to the WHO 2013 World Mental Health day and other anthropology and mental health conferences and events, preview versions of Breaking the chains were screened at:

Aperture Asia-Pacific Ethnographic Documentary film festival 2014, 21-23 November 2013, Melbourne, Australia (short cut)

International Film Festival WATCH DOCS Human Rights in Film, 6-12 December 2013, Warsaw, Poland

Try Walking in My Shoes: Empathy and Portrayals of Mental Illness on Screen, 13-14 February 2014, Melbourne, Australia

AAS Film Expo 2014: Expanding Asia, Connecting Culture, 27 – 29 March 2014, Philadelphia, USA.

Göttingen International Ethnographic Film, 28 May-1 June 2014, Göttingen, Germany

Days of Ethnographic Film, 9-13 March 2015, Ljubljana, Slovenia (Informative program)

ETHNOGRAFILM Festival, Cine’ 13, 8-12 April 2015, Paris

Kochi Biennale Foundation Ethnografilm, 17 June 2015, Kochi, India (short cut)

Screenings final cut:

Rendezvous with Madness, 6-14th November 2015, Toronto, Canada (North American Premiere)

Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival 5-15th November 2015, Toronto, Canada

Anthropological and documentary film festival NAFA 2015, 21-26th September 2015, Warsaw, Poland (European Premiere)

Being Human: Festival of the Humanities, 19th November 2015, London, UK

World Film Festival, 27th March-1st April 2016, Tartu, Estonia

Culture Unplugged, 19th June 2016 , India | USA | Indonesia | New Zealand

Other Field Festival, 29-31st July 2016,  Suffolk, UK,

Indonesia Kontemporer, 8th October 2016, London

PKU-UCL Cross-Cultural Medical Humanities conference/workshop, 7-9th November, UCL London

Global Health Film Festival, 11-12th November 2016, Barbican, London

Global Health on Film at Barts, 22nd  November 2016, London

Global Health Film Festival,  October 2017, Amsterdam…and many more!

Breaking the Chains