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Filmmaker Q&A - Mental Health & Disability

This year at GGM Film Festival, many of the films submitted by young women explored and addressed themes of mental health and disability, feelings of alienation and or marginalisation. GlobalGirl Amber Phillips sat down with Tyro Heath, award-winning director of short documentary Hattie, accompanied by Hattie herself, a drama student also from London, Ella Greenwood, filmmaker and actor from London, and writer, director and producer of Faulty Roots also joined virtually for our Mental Health & Disability Q&A.

Ella Greenwood also feels strongly about representation in film, with film in particular focusing on one girls’ journey with depression. Ella wanted to tell the story of somebody with depression through that depicts a true and realistic idea of what t can be like to be depressed. Everything around you can be going great, but inside you may just feel sad. She said people are more likely to watch a film or a television show to pass time, or just having something on rather than going out and buying a book about something that doesn’t speak to or relate to them. This is why her film was a great way to challenge stigmas around mental health. Something that stood out to us was when Ella mentioned that as part of her research for the film she asked people to name a film that represented mental health well. Nobody could think of any. That’s why films (and discussions like these are so important).

Hattie is a 19-minute documentary that follows 16-year old Hattie’s teenage-hood with humour, flair, and bright blue hair. In the film Hattie speaks of her experiences living with spina bifida. The opening scene if a statement. Breaking stereotypes of disability in film and telling the story through an honest and rich representation of Hattie’s life. It was important for both Tyro and Hattie to work together to set the right tone. They knew what they didn’t want to do…and that was to make it a sob story. That, they didn’t. It’s a feel-good film that captures truth through collaboration and a wonderful introduction to spina bifida to anybody who many not know about the disability. For both of these young filmmakers aim to bringing more representation into their work, and bringing subjects to the forefront of those films, to deliver an easier way for people to understand, perhaps making them feel more comfortable engaging with something new.

We also heard from Yemeni-American filmmaker Alaa Zabara, writer and director of Selahy – My Weapon. Alaa is hard of hearing herself and wanted to tell the story of the children who have died or become hearing impaired as a result of war. Living in Yemen, Saleemah is a young girl who is partly deaf. There is so much love in this film. There is also heartbreak. Perhaps this is what the viewer needs in order to really open their eyes to hearing impairment and the effects of war on children and their development and ability to protect themselves when necessary. It takes us back to Ella and Tyro’s point, that perhaps it makes it easier for people to digest and understand through film, and in this case the dramatisation of a harsh reality. Raabia Hussain, writer, director, and producer of Unheard Stories: Kenya’s Deaf joined us to explain her reasons further for deciding to make her film. Growing up deaf in the U.K. all her life, it was tough, and she often felt isolated and this had an effect on her mental health. Over time, Raabia decided to work with children with disabilities in different schools in Kenya. Her film aims to achieve equality in disability, and we believe Raabia did this beautifully, leaving us with a lot to think about.

All of the women who joined our Mental Health & Disability Q&A have created rich films with such important topics. Inclusivity has been at the forefront of this conversation, breaking down stereotypes in order to produce a more well-rounded, honest and authentic view of these realities. We have thoroughly enjoyed hearing from all of the young filmmakers, it’s been a pleasure to screen your films and chat with you all!

Written by Kayla Marie Troy

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