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Kerala short film festival aims to spread awareness on mental health.

The fest is being conducted online from November 8 by MeHeLP, a collaborative project between Indian and UK-based scholars and theatre artistes.

Months after organising theatre performances to spread awareness on mental health, a team of Indian and United Kingdom-based scholars are putting together a short film festival for the same purpose. The organiser – Mental Health Literacy Project or MeHeLP — hopes to enlighten, educate and inform communities about mental health, through the short film festival. Titled MSSF, the short film festival is being held online, on MeHeLP’s YouTube channel from November 8 to 27.

MeHeLP is a collaborative project between Indian and UK based scholars and theatre artistes, led by Raghu Raghavan, professor at the De Montfort University in UK’s Leicester. “Our objective is to spread public awareness about mental health with the help of visual media. Our aim is to encourage filmmakers in Kerala to create short films within the duration of four minutes on the topic,” Professor Raghavan says.

The theme of the film festival is ‘Mental Health Matters.’ The team had published details of the competition inviting entries from all over Kerala to submit films with a duration of maximum four minutes. Around 237 registrations were received and 77 films were submitted. From these, 20 films were selected for the short film festival, and one each shall be screened every evening starting November 8, Sunday.

The entries were judged by a jury comprising renowned filmmaker Shyamaprasad, actor Gauthami Nair, playwright Chandradasan of the Lokadharmi Theatre and Dr Meena Iyer, Head of Medical Education, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS).

“This will be the first of its kind short film festival, including films that feature and promote mental health literacy and awareness in Kerala,” Professor Raghavan says.

“Mental health experts link the rise of depression to Kerala’s fast socioeconomic transformations. These have coincided with decline of the joint family system, discrepancy between high standards of education and low employment, and labour migration to the Gulf States, resulting in ‘gulf depression’ of these migrants and of the women left behind,” says the release.

The gap between expectations and harsh socioeconomic realities, consumption of alcohol, and pressure on children exerted by the school system are cited as other factors leading to depression. Another finding of the team is that societal stigma makes people with mental health illness resistant to approach mental health facilities.

MeHeLP proposes to use theatre and films and their storytelling approaches to explore and develop culturally appropriate and acceptable mental health literacy narratives in rural and urban areas of the state. They will work alongside local communities, inviting them to tell and reimagine their own stories through folk theatre and street plays.

“The project aims to work with those people whose views are seldom sought, and voices rarely heard by the wider society,” Professor Raghavan says.

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