For our Digital Sound and Image Capture unit we were tasked with the creation and production of a 2-5minute short film, on a subject of a choice. I began my project by mapping out ideas and themes I would be interesting in portraying on screen. I wanted to choose a theme and a style consistent with the other work I have been producing throughout the course.
Once happy with the theme of exploring mental health on screen, under the experimental documentary genre, I began to compile research and exploring influences to inform how my film will look and feel.
Theme + Narrative
I have chosen to centre my film around the subject of mental health, a subject matter that is both important and personal to me. I regularly try to explore mental health in my work, and I have always wanted to translate my explorations into video. However, mental health is a broad topic, I considered many different avenues and genres of how I could portray this challenging topic. I settled on experimental documentary because within the small time frame I think I would more successfully be able to convey my subject matter within the genre and the best use of my skills. A narrative may be more challenging to convey the complexities of mental illness within the confines of our deadline.
I have always been particularly interested in how mental illness is portrayed on screen, specifically women’s, and how that is evolving. The image of a ‘mentally ill’ woman can be seen throughout cinema, however these portrayals normally follow certain tropes and representation for many years has been fairly limited. As what we see in the media can largely influence audience’s perceptions and understanding of topics, it is vital that film provides a comprehensive and varied representation of different types of people.
Examining how film has previously and continues to portray women’s mental health on screen, it could likely have contributed to some of the false assumptions people have about those who suffer with mental illnesses. It is for this reason why I am passionate and driven to create a film that might help audiences understand different symptoms and elements of mental illness, that might not have received large representation in film in comparison to other symptoms, (such as hysteria).
Being a person who suffers from both a mood and anxiety disorder, I sought out films that might inform me about my own conditions and hopefully see my experiences reflected on screen and I found this was often documentaries.
Below are several films that explore the topic of mental health in documentary and experimental form, that I have found particularly informative, relative and inspiring.
The Mess from Homespun on Vimeo.
I particularly appreciated this films attempt to try to visually represent what anxiety of depression can feel like. The slow and captivating fall of miscellaneous items as the woman speaks, juxtaposed with the almost violent motion of the underwater shots work powerfully together to create an idea of living with BiPolar can feel like.
I want to try and attempt to do this in my own film, symptoms can be all consuming and overwhelming, and I believe that film is a powerful medium that could potentially portray this.
In my personal research, what I thought would be relevant to my short film idea, I spend a lot of time reading articles about how women’s mental health is represented on screen. Below are some articles I read prior to conceptualises my narrative and content of my film.
‘Exploring How Female Hysteria is Presented on Film’
“remembering, that “hysteria” is a fundamentally gendered term”
“The hysterical woman is not just furious or oversexed, but merely a woman confronting the constant undermining of herself. Of the image that patriarchy has constructed for the personification of ‘excess’.”
Why the Depiction of Mental Illness in Horror Films Is Damaging
“There are various stereotypes when it comes to the portrayal of mental illnesses in the media. And the main one has to be the depiction of psychological disabilities as a source of violence, volatility, or brutality”
“I’m not saying that we should stop watching movies that spout inaccurate or demonizing portrayals of mental disorders. That said, we should be aware of the stereotypes embedded within them”
To narrow down this ambitious attempt at conveying a mood/anxiety disorder, I considered how and where the setting of my film would be. I settled on having the platform for the themes explored to be a bed. I made this choice as I want the documentary to be intimate and personal, I wanted it to feel like a conversation with yourself or a close friend. The bed also plays a large role in those who struggle with mental illness, from sleeping issues like insomnia and apnea to being unable to leave the bed when going through a major depressive swing. I think it is important to convey this complicated relationship people can have with their bed, it’s a place where you are supposed to feel rested and an escape from everyday grievances. I believe it is an underrepresented part of dealing with mental health, it is also very private and therefore less spoken about.
Having settled on my subject and style of film I have started to compile mood boards of how I want my film to look stylistically.