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Sarajevo 2021 - CineLink Industry Days

Industry Report: Market Trends

At Sarajevo, panellists discuss mental health in the film industry

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The talk, moderated by producer Paula Alvarez Vaccaro, saw the participation of two filmmakers and two qualified therapists

At Sarajevo, panellists discuss mental health in the film industry

One of this year’s CineLink Talks, titled “Staying Sane: Mental Health in the Film Industry”, is now more timely than ever owing to the huge additional stakes raised by the pandemic. The debate, which took place on 17 August during this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival (13-20 August 2021), was moderated by producer Paula Alvarez Vaccaro and saw the participation of Rebecca Day, psychotherapist and documentary producer for the UK’s Film In Mind, Malikkah Rollins, co-founder of Documentality and DOC NYC’s Director of Industry and Education, Victoria Thomas, writer-director for the UK’s Republic of Story, and Pamela Drameh, independent producer and technical manager for STXinternational. The panellists explored different strategies and solutions for a healthier industry, one in which fewer people sustain harm and more people feel welcome.

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After Vaccaro’s introduction, Rollins highlighted how it is important to work on “what you can do for yourself and your team, systematically” and how to react “when larger systems are not working in our favour.” Rollins said that we must admit that anyone can experience mental health issues while working on a project, but marginalised people – e.g. PoC, indigenous, LGBT, women, etc. - may suffer from an additional layer of stress and strain, owing to the “historical inequities” they went through.

Drameh spoke about her experience as a woman of colour working in the UK industry. She explained how power dynamics have affected her work/life balance – e.g. a boss calls you out of hours and a refusal may imply that you are not a real “team player” – or the problems of not relating with the dominating “drinking culture.” “You’re just there without being yourself. It’s just performative,” she said.

Before entering the industry and working on international co-productions, Thomas was a lawyer. She spoke about the importance on facing mental health issues and inequalities starting from the film school system, and about the steps required to “decolonise curricula” and to “diversify lecturing pools.”

Next, she described her work as a writer-director and the struggles of explaining to producers the need for a diverse crew. In one of her films, the subject was very culturally specific and she was the only hired Black person. She ended up not having “creative conversations” with her team but spending most of the time educating them about different cultural nuances, so that their choices wouldn’t end up being offensive or simply out of place.

Rollins suggested that it is really important to build a community before starting a project, what in psychology is known as a “protective factor,” ready to call  when “things start to go poorly.” She also suggested to always trust “gut instincts” and set clear boundaries from the beginning, arguing that employers tend to respect more employees who put those from the start of their working relationship. Later, Drameh and Thomas discussed the lack of accountability and the topic of people’s management.

Rollins also touched upon her activities for Documentality, an organisation aiming at “normalising” mental health debates in the documentary sector. She  said that many issues keep rising owing to the lack of standards and protocols around human resources, as well as the absence of overarching monitoring bodies within the industry.

In the final stages of the talk, Vaccaro reminded how “the easiest way to try to understand other people’s experience is to try to put yourself in their shoes, and to do that, you need to know their shoes,” and said how knowledge can be developed “by reaching out” and “not being afraid to ask.”

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