Acknowledging and exploring the range of emotions that comprise a person’s mental health is an idea that has been gaining ground, being treated on par with the importance of physical wellbeing. But while we’ve all heard of the shrink’s couch, there’s a more entertaining and engaging way to do this exploration. That’s the medium of cinema.
Films have always been bringing out the deepest emotions of characters and, in turn, resonating with the emotions with the audience members. However, there’s perhaps only one film festival in Asia that’s dedicated to mental health; it’s aimed at not only entertaining but also starting a mass movement on mental health awareness.
Now in its fourth year, the Mental Health Film Festival Singapore (MHFFS), with the theme ‘Present Continuous’, has programmes from November 4 to 12, 2023, carrying forward its mission of “deepening knowledge and fostering empathy”.
Readers of Connected to India are eligible for a 20 per cent discount on film festival ticket prices, and the workshops are free. To get the 20 per cent discount, use the code “MHFFfam” under the category “Friends of MHFF” while booking the tickets. MHFFS tickets are available online at sistic.com.sg.
A still from the film Next Sohee, being screened at the festival. | Photo courtesy: MHFFS
MHFFS is a registered mental health charity whose activities revolve around, but are not limited to, this film festival.
Speaking to Connected to India via e-mail, Akash Mohapatra, Managing Director and Associate General Counsel, Deutsche Bank AG, Asia Pacific Head Office, Singapore, and Chairperson of the MHFFS Board of Directors, said, “The film festival is accompanied by a roadshow, with more than 20 mental health charities showcasing their support in the community.”
There’s also a Short Film Youth Competition within MHFFS 2023. As evidence of how the film festival has been growing, Mohapatra said, “A hundred short films produced by Singapore youth were received by us this year (double from last year). Each of the films has a story behind it. Sometimes, it’s a 15-year-old whose classmate committed suicide, which drove her to write a film; or it’s someone who has watched her grandmother’s dementia and made a film on that theme. As we probe each filmmaker youth, we uncover a story.”
A scene from A Still Small Voice. | Photo courtesy: MHFFS
A still from Isadora’s Children. | Photo courtesy: MHFFS
Mohapatra, who described himself as a “volunteer” for MHFFS, said, “The organisation itself has a story. Run by just two full-time staff, and three interns from the schools/IHLs, and relying on a number of volunteers, they’ve created a nationwide campaign, just because they care — and care enough to go all out and make a difference.”
A moment from the 2022 film festival. | Photo courtesy: MHFFS
The film festival is the brainchild of Cheryl Tan, former Executive Director of MHFFS and a TEDx speaker in 2020, the year of the pandemic and the resulting mental health crisis. About how she came to establish this non-profit, Mohapatra told CtoI, “Cheryl, who has her own mental health journey, was studying in Canada and attending a similar festival and aspired to bring the safe space of a festival focused on mental health to Singapore, with the aim of normalising conversations about mental health.”
A scene from Sur l’Adamant. | Photo courtesy: MHFFS
Encouraging such conversations about mental health is the core objective of MHFFS, and “we do this using film as a medium”, said Mohapatra. “Conversations are started [by] watching our films; engaging in panel discussions; and joining the roadshow, where many charities providing direct services are available to speak to the public. We hope these programmes will enable more people to access support earlier [rather than later].”
A scene from Break the Game. | Photo courtesy: MHFFS
Just as there are more youth film entries this year, the MHFFS roadshow has also got more participation this year. “It’s a pleasure to see how the organisation has grown,” reiterated Mohapatra. “This year, at the roadshow, we have more than 21 mental health agencies, compared to 10 at the inaugural roadshow last year…. The [MHFFS] outreach to the community, to schools, to offices has also increased, by taking films and conversations on mental health around the island [of Singapore]. But there’s so much more to do.”
A still from Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. | Photo courtesy: MHFFS
His fellow MHFFS Board members are directors Dr Jade Kua, a qualified professional coach, medical practitioner and educator, and consultant for the Hospital Services Division at the Singapore Ministry of Health; and Hayley Sharratt, a veteran of the finance sector, with roles spanning the banking, social, and private sector, and most recently a vice-president at Deutsche Bank, where she held various roles, including Head of Strategic Engagement for the Corporate Services function.
A still from The Taste of Mango. | Photo courtesy: MHFFS
Dr Kua told CtoI, “The festival is aligned with what is important to me, including creating a safe space for conversations about mental health.”
Sharratt said, “Through prior engagement with mental health charities, I saw firsthand the power of conversation. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the light in someone’s eyes when they realise they’re not alone.”
● Next Sohee – from Korea (Singapore premiere): July Jung probes deep into the ramiﬁcations of societal pressures, highlighting the silent anguish of Korean youth.
● A Still Small Voice (Singapore premiere): An unﬂinching portrayal of the health sector amidst the pandemic, illustrating the profound challenges of burnout and mourning.
● Sur l’Adamant – from France (Singapore premiere): A poignant depiction of a unique ﬂoating daycare on the Seine River, championing art as an emotional outlet for individuals with mental disorders.
● The Taste of Mango (Southeast Asia premiere): Chloe Abrahams deftly interweaves family legacies with themes of trauma, healing, and the poignant ties binding generations.
● Break the Game (Asia premiere): A gripping venture into the online gaming realm, spotlighting the trials of a transgender gamer navigating the tumultuous waters of acceptance.
● Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – distributed by A24 (Singapore premiere): An enchanting animated narrative accentuating the invaluable role of community and familial support.
● Isadora’s Children: A celebration of grief articulated through the medium of dance, drawing parallels between generations of women and underscoring the therapeutic essence of art.
● What Would Mitch Do by Dawn Tan: A narrative on resilience as Andie undergoes a self-made exposure therapy programme, revisiting places tied to her past love.
● Through the Looking Glass by Cho Jun Ming: A gripping documentary capturing Alice’s struggles with her multifaceted personality.
● Paper Planes, Don’t Always Soar by Diyana Amir: A poignant story inspired by true events about a daughter’s bond with her father, a plane crash survivor grappling with memory loss.
● Wanderlost by Zhang Kexin: An animated short following a lost rabbit’s frantic search for direction, only to realise the psychological toll of its quest.
● Friendships and Isolation in Youths
● Social Media Consumption
● Identifying and Overcoming Addictions
● Self-Expression through the Arts
● Parent-Child Relationships
● Trauma and Healing from Abuse
● Workplace Mental Health
● Somatic Awareness