Tim Burton once remarked, “Movies are like an expensive form of therapy for me.”
The various forms of art, films specifically, have become a form of therapy for many. When the pandemic struck, online streaming platform Netflix alone saw a whopping 16 million spike in sign-ups according to the BBC in April, 2020.
The reason? Movies aren’t as expensive as they used to be and they’re cathartic.
While they’re often seen as a medium to escape, some efforts are being made by Malaysian filmmakers to use film-making as a channel for advocacy, to raise awareness and de-stigmatise issues surrounding Mental health.
These filmmakers have got together to organise ‘Layar Perak: Let There Be Light’ in collaboration with Nyawa, a non-governmental organisation, to raise awareness on mental health through a virtual film screening which is set to take place on September 25, 2021.
We reached out to these filmmakers and decided to ask them about mental health to get their insights on some do’s and don’ts, to avoid controversy when it comes to portrayals of mental health in film. Here are three important tips to make films on mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic served as inspiration for Feisal Azizuddin’s short film, if i can’t see the sun, maybe i should go.
“The pandemic brought much of the world to its knees; with lockdowns and restrictions, it has drastically reshaped how society operates now. Being in lockdown for so long, I wanted to explore the issue of rising suicides in this pandemic era – specifically due to financial difficulties and social isolation,” he explained via email.
Although the production of his film had to be carried out hurriedly over a short span of time, Feisal did not skimp on research by getting real-life accounts.
“We consulted several individuals who had personally faced and are still grappling with the issue of depression, from being socially isolated in the pandemic.
“This greatly helped the film in terms of accurately portraying the subject matter without relying on sensationalism,” said Feisal.
The alumnus of Busan Asian Film School, South Korea, and the Luang Prabang Talent Lab, Laos, said sensitive subject matters such as mental health should not be regarded as a source for entertainment.
“Generalising and oversimplifying the cause and effects of mental health issues gives the wrong impression to audiences,” he said.
It took his team a week to complete the film and it was all shot remotely. To make up for the lack of manpower, his cast had to double up as a cameraman and also handle the wardrobe and props.
Feisal, who also submitted his film to G-Short, a short film competition by George Town Festival, said that films are among the best medium to get the message out about mental health.
“Films have the power to create a more visual lasting message for many people.”
For Sharifah Aryana, who starred in Diri, a film written and directed by her sister Sharifah Aleysha, movies are a form of escape during her best and worst days. Due to this, films are perfect to address mental health.
“So much of mental health is just understanding human relations and human thinking and a majority of films and stories are human-centric. Visual mediums are just quicker to understand and therefore, films make accessing and retaining the information much easier.
“Because of this, it makes sharing and talking about mental health easier. It makes relating to a situation much easier and with that, we realise that we are more similar than we think.”
Interestingly, Diri was never intended to be a film about mental health. Yet, because it deals with human emotions and the nature of relationships, it was selected as part of the film screening. The film was part of the top 10 films at the BMW Shorties 2014.
“It started as a film to play with the idea of what happens when you lose a sister that battles with her own demons. Aleysha wrote Diri as a love letter to the unbreakable bond between sisters and how underappreciated the relationship between sisters is until it’s too late.
“I mean anyone who is close to their siblings can relate. It’s super hard to appreciate each other’s existence until you bring up the idea of one of you disappearing forever,” Sharifah explains.
Due to this, Sharifah takes heed from the late legendary filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad and recommends for filmmakers to deal with subject matters that are familliar with.
“This is something the late Yasmin Ahmad used to always tell us. When you want to make a film, talk about something that you know. Every story is important and every story should get the chance to be told.
“No matter how insignificant you may think your story is, there are hundreds of people waiting to relate to you or feel the position you are in too. If you want to talk about mental health, do it with grace, kindness, and a lot of research. But at the end of the day, speak from your heart and I guarantee people will accept it with theirs. Insyaa Allah.”
As a psychology graduate and a neuroscience student, Farihin Ufiya was extremely careful to make sure that her first film, Palsy, didn’t perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes.
Due to this, her film, which explores sleep paralysis and its relation to mental health was based on scientific research.
“Sleep paralysis, or kena tindih, is a well-known phenomenon in Malaysia. Most people I know have experienced it, including me and my co-writer. Thus, we wanted to explore this elusive and interesting phenomenon and its relation to mental health.”
Farihin, who had to postpone filming several times due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 standard operating procedures had to juggle her work with the Ministry of Health while filming.
“It was definitely hectic and stressful, but I overcame it by just marching on –the best way out is through.”
To Farihin, films are powerful tools of influence.
“Films can explore the complex causes and symptoms of mental illness, thus fostering empathy for those that are suffering.”
“As a budding filmmaker myself, I don’t think I have authority over this. However, as a mental health advocate, I’d implore filmmakers to not perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes about people with mental illness.”
All images for this feature were supplied by the filmmakers themselves. This post was edited by Ista Kyra.