Using a hair salon to treat mental illness? Watch the first few minutes of director Glenn Holsten's witty, joyful Hollywood Beauty Salon, a documentary about an outpatient mental-health center in Germantown, and the connection will seem obvious.
Holsten and several people from the center will host a free 7 p.m. screening Monday for World Mental Health Day at International House in University City (3701 Chestnut St.), plus two additional screenings next month at venues in Northeast Philly and Ambler. (R.S.V.P. and find details at hollywoodbeautysalonmovie.com.)
Holsten, a Penn alum whose recent work includes The Barnes Collection on PBS, explores how creative activities, including hairstyling, help make healing happen among the 200 clients treated annually at Germantown Recovery Community, an NHS Human Services facility at Germantown Avenue and East Armat Street.
"I remember when I first took a tour of their facility and I saw they had art therapy, which I love, and music therapy, which I love," said Holsten, who spent four years shooting the film. "Then they asked if I wanted to see their little beauty parlor."
There, Holsten met Rachel Carr Timms, the powerhouse personality behind the salon, where clients - or community members, as they are called - cut and style one another's hair.
Affectionately called "Hollywood" by everyone, Timms is a certified peer specialist and psychiatric rehab practitioner who has been with NHS since 2007. Her irrepressible energy gives the film much of its power.
Holsten's film follows community members as they plan for their annual hair and fashion show. In between haircuts, they sit down for startlingly frank one-on-one chats about their sometimes harrowing life stories. Over the years, we see them pursue an education, prepare for the job market, or fall in love.
And we see them cut one another's hair.
"When you're suffering from depression . . . it's not always easy to take care of yourself," said Timms.
"Something magical happens when they get into that salon and get their hair done. You feel good about yourself again, and you can face the world."
Holsten, 53, said he was deeply moved and inspired from the first visit.
"I fell in love with the sense of hope and compassion that I felt," he said. "There was this vitality there and creativity . . . and I thought, 'I need to come back here and explore it further.' And I came back over and over again."
Additional screenings: Nov. 1 at Lutheran Settlement House, 1340 Frankford Ave.; and Nov. 10 at Ambler Theater, 108 E. Butler Ave., Ambler.