In 2020, 28-year-old Attila Csanyi was found dead on a rooftop in Hamilton, Ont., after missing for weeks.
Shortly after his death, his twin brother Richard Csanyi, and childhood friend and filmmaker Stephen Hosier, began making a documentary together, titled Attila. It's an emotional, intimate, honest and eye-opening look the reality of homelessness, the opioid crisis and barriers to access to mental health support.
Attila is making its premiere Oct. 10, on the 75th anniversary of World Mental Health Day, at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto. Tickets are pay what you can and include a post-screening discussion featuring palliative care physician and health justice activist Dr. Naheed Dosani, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, Chris Summerville, and community and crisis worker Diana Chan McNally. All proceeds will go towards Workman Arts, to support artists who have experienced issues with mental health and addiction.
Childhood trauma in foster care
While Attila is an incredibly personal story for both the film's lead participate and the filmmaker, it was actually Csanyi himself who brought up the possibility of Hosier making a documentary about the circumstances of his brother's death.
"It never really crossed my mind that there may be a possibility that he had died," Hosier told Yahoo Canada. "It was pretty devastating to hear that."
"In that same phone call, Richard started sharing a little bit about the struggles he had getting Attila the help he needed in the years prior. It had taken several years for him to get Attila a [schizophrenia] diagnosis, as his mental health deteriorated. He struggled to get him adequate housing. Richard also started sharing a little bit more about their experience in foster care, between six years old and eight years old, and some pretty horrific abuse they suffered. How that clearly had lifelong, lasting effects on Attila. He said, '[Steve] you could really make a documentary or a film out of our story.'"
Attila provides a window into both the childhood years of the brothers, in addition to their adult life. That includes Csanyi opening up about how he and his late brother were put in a terrifyingly abusive foster home as kids. While the details that Csanyi recalls in the documentary are incredibly disturbing, he also identified that since he first mentioned the circumstances to Hosier as children, the now filmmaker "held on to the secret."
"Steve did pretty good ... not telling anyone and not being judgmental, and throughout the years our friendship just grew because of it," Csanyi said. "I didn't really have a difficult time sharing with Steve."
"It's still something that's hard to talk about or to discuss. It's not something that I really wanted to share with the world. But ... I'm still seeking answers for it. I'm still seeking justice and I felt like the film would be a great platform to start getting people asking questions, and reaching out to other people who experienced the same form of trauma."
'If he could have only gotten the support he needed, ... he'd still be here'
While Attila also addresses several circumstances that led to Csanyi's brother being expelled from a long-term care residence, managing schizophrenia and grappling with addiction, Hosier also very beautifully tells a true human story.
A particularly touching moment is when Csanyi speaks to people on Hamilton streets who knew his brother, and they shared how much they loved him and how kind he always was to them, and others.
"He always made friends quite easily," Csanyi said. "I knew that he had people on the streets to talk to, but it still felt like he had no place to go. ... He was quite lost."
"Throughout the film, I kind of realized that even though he was living on the streets, people admired him and loved him. When we were searching for him, I had a number of people on Facebook saying, 'Oh I spotted your brother throughout the years. He'd come in and apply for a job, or he would be picking up garbage off the streets,' and that's basically just the type of person he was. He was always trying to help others and I just feel bad that he wasn't able to get the help that he needed."
"He was just an amazing athlete and really charismatic," Hosier added. "Despite his descent into schizophrenia, I think he maintained that charisma."
The filmmaker also includes footage from home movies that he used to make with the Csanyi twins when they were kids, featuring all the "shenanigans" they would get up to.
"In many ways it brought back a lot of good memories, but on the other hand, it was also very sad at times to think, what a tragic loss," Hosier said. "If he could have only gotten the support he needed, that Richard tried so long and hard to get him, he'd still be here."
"I really wish I took for more videos and I'm happy that Steve did, because it's something that I always hold on to and look back on," Csanyi added. "I still cry over it and ... it gives him a little bit of a personality."
'People just viewed him as someone crazy'
For anyone who watches Attila, Csanyi hopes the documentary can make a positive impact on how people think about and interact with those experiencing homelessness.
"With Attila, for example, he kept getting kicked out of restaurants and public places because people believed he was strange and out of order, and that he didn't belong," Csanyi said. "People just viewed him as someone crazy and that's not a label that I want to put on anyone."
"Homelessness has become a crisis. ... There are many more people who are being forced onto the streets. We usually point fingers and say, 'it's their own fault,' but really it's a community effort. Everyone needs to chip in and understand these issues around mental illness, addiction, homelessness and abuse. Maybe if we ask the right questions, there could be answers to all of this."
Hosier added that he hopes people get a better understanding of the severity of the circumstances that lead to homelessness and addiction.
"It's my hope that people who watch the film and support the film ... get a better understanding of the life that some of these people live, and the experiences they've had, in many cases going right back to childhood," Hosier said. "I heard an interesting quote recently, to try to better understand people on the streets just picture that person as a small child, ... it gives you a bit more empathy."
"I think that especially goes for people like Attila, or people on the street living homeless, or perhaps having some sort of manic-type episode on the street. Instead of just writing them off as being crazy and wishing they would just go away or disappear, maybe just try to picture that individual as a small child. ... My hope is that people just have a better understanding and more insight into what life events and consequences can lead to things like homelessness, mental illness, and in Attila's case, being found dead on a rooftop. It's just heartbreaking."