'I want to kill myself': Vivek Shraya's new film is a courageous and vital portrait of mental health

In honour of her 36th birthday, Vivek Shraya has released perhaps her most personal and vulnerable piece of work yet in the fearless short "I want to kill myself."

In honour of her 36th birthday, Shraya has released the short online for free

Vivek Shraya in 'I want to kill myself.' (Zachary Ayotte.)

"I wanted to kill myself when I was 11," begins the narration of multi-talented artist Vivek Shraya's new short film. "I learned I had a body, through your condemnation of my body."

In honour of her 36th birthday, Shraya has released perhaps her most personal and vulnerable piece of work yet in the short, fearlessly entitled "I want to kill myself." Featuring photography from Zachary Ayotte, the eight-and-a-half minute portrait of Shraya's relationship to her suicidal thoughts is now available on Vimeo to view for free — and by watching it, you'd be contributing your own little birthday present to Shraya herself.

"My biggest hope is that people watch the film," Shraya tells CBC Arts. "Given our decreasing attention spans and the amount of online content we are flooded with, seeking an audience for an almost nine-minute short, let alone a short that delves into suicide, unfortunately feels like a big ask."

Shraya said that an early response to the film title was, "Well, that is going to get attention."

"I really struggled with this 'attention-grabbing' quality, especially because so often what people think of suicide or people who attempt suicide is that we are attention seekers," she says. "But this is exactly what makes talking about suicide so hard, and so the title is kind of a resistance against the same reading it conjures."

One of the things I am trying to convey is that I have thought about suicide my whole life and probably will continue to do so.- Vivek Shraya

That said, Shraya briefly considered "I wanted to kill myself" as a title, but ultimately changed her mind.

"One of the things I am trying to convey is that I have thought about suicide my whole life and probably will continue to do so," she says. "This isn't just past experience. This is my day to day. I also considered the possibility of a more 'poetic' title — but the heart of the film is about the importance of naming, saying the words. And so, despite my discomfort, 'I want to kill myself' is where I settled."

Vivek Shraya in 'I want to kill myself.' (Zachary Ayotte)

Shraya said the film is deliberately structured as a biography, and her hope is that viewers "will consider that for some of us, thinking about suicide is not a phase but rather a reality that we carry and navigate throughout our lives."

She also hopes that the short will inspire people who think about suicide to feel like they can "talk about it openly, if they want to, as opposed to suffering in silence."

As for releasing it on her birthday? Shraya says that, given that the film is about her thinking about the choice to keep living, tying it to her date of birth seemed like the right fit.

"Historically, my birthday and the months of January and February are ones where I tend to think about suicide the most, and recognizing this pattern was also part of the rationale for this release date," she added.

Vivek Shraya in 'I want to kill myself.' (Zachary Ayotte)

For Shraya, a major impetus for creating the film was how exhausted she felt by the expectations of performing "a kind of durability in [her] personal, professional and artistic lives." (For an idea of what she means, see all the things she's been up to on her website).

"As an artist, my prolificness is often commented on, through comments like, 'When do you sleep?' — and sometimes I want to respond: I make art because it brings me joy, but also, I make art because I am in pain. Making and releasing this film now feels like a relief, to be able to be honest about the ways that my living has often been connected to not wanting to live."

Happy birthday, Vivek. And thank you for sharing your honesty.

Watch "I want to kill myself" on Vimeo.


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2020s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.


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