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A Letter To My Younger Self - which was funded by Into Film, and which you can watch above - is a series of reflexive testimonies from a group of young men and one bereaved mother on the subject of male mental health. The short film provides a moving stimulus for discussion in-and-outside of the classroom, but please be aware that the film may be triggering for some, as subjects of mental wellbeing and suicide are addressed head-on.
Below, Paul Stapley - Training and Resources Officer in Into Film's Learning team - retraces the creative journey of the Into Film-funded short.
It's November 2016. London. The foyer at Picturehouse Central is, as usual, buzzing with chat. The auditorium, however, is more subdued, and perhaps rightly so: this was a memorial screening of Searching for Sugar Man (2012), in honour of its director, Malik Bendjelloul, who tragically took his own life at the age of 36 in 2014. Proceeds from the event were split between the Malik Bendjelloul Foundation and Into Film.
Malik Bendjelloul was an inspired and gifted filmmaker, whose memory lives on through his outstanding Academy Award and BAFTA-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, a film that tells the story of the half-forgotten music legend, Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez was a singer-songwriter from Detroit whose music found fame as the soundtrack for anti-apartheid South Africa in the 70s and 80s, who faded into obscurity and was rumoured to have died...
Committing further funds to the money raised at the memorial screening, here at Into Film we were determined to initiate a project that could engage young people in the filmmaking process that Bendjelloul so championed. We wanted to reach young people who had not had the chance before, and to help them create something that would help honour the memory of Malik Bendjelloul.
Our attention immediately turned to filmmaking company Suited and Booted. Based in Bath, Suited and Booted had worked closely with Gill Welsh, the Participation Lead for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) in Swindon, Wiltshire, and Bath & North East Somerset. The dots were joining up and from here the project grew.
With this partnership solidified, the tireless work of Gill and Kate Murphy (PSHE & Drug Education Consultant) and Public Health colleagues at Bath and North East Somerset Council through the Boys in Mind Project, the energy of young CAMHS attendees would direct the creative process for this filmmaking project.
The Boys in Mind project directly engages with the mental wellbeing of boys and young men, with a strategy to raise awareness of the effects of gender conditioning and stereotyping on their behaviour. The outstanding work of the Boys in Mind Steering Group also strives to:
From the opening workshops, the young people, led by Gill and Kate, were bursting with ideas and conversation as to how this filmmaking endeavour could develop. It was clear this was going to be an exciting project.
The outcome was the moving and emotional A Letter to my Younger Self (which you can watch at the top of this page). The subject of mental wellbeing and suicide is addressed head-on, and this short film provides a moving stimulus for discussion in, and outside of the classroom.
For the young people involved, it offered a chance to express their messages and stories about mental health issues, and to make clear that it's okay for boys and young men to open-up and to express themselves in a way that is right for them. Perhaps most importantly, it shines a light on the stigma around the necessity of men to appear to be strong.
Providing a creative focus around something like a film allows relationships and trust to develop early on, before young people need to consider sharing more personal aspects of their own experience.Gill Welsh, Participation Lead for CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) in Swindon, Wiltshire and Bath & North East Somerset
As well as the vital input from the CAMHS attendees, the production company Suited and Booted were able to use this filmmaking opportunity to mentor their 18-year-old production coordinator, who took on the role of producer for this project. This young leadership provided an invaluable link to the other young participants and was a wonderful career development opportunity.
"Film can give people the space to tell their story, or even another story which means they are focusing on something other than their mental health for a while", remarked Sara Strickland, Company director at Suited and Booted. "One of the most wonderful things about this project is the longevity it will have. Through the work Gill and Kate are doing with the Boys in Mind project, this has developed from a filmmaking project into a film that will be used to get people thinking about mental health in general, but particularly male mental health."
The importance of this work cannot be understated. Suicide is the leading cause of death among men and women aged between 20 and 34 years of age in England and Wales, with males having considerably higher rates than females. If we want to change such statistics, conversations with our young people around mental wellbeing must happen.
If you're a teacher looking for a stimulus to open-up talk around mental wellbeing, I would argue there is no better place to start than by watching A Letter to my Younger Self.
Yes, it's moving, yes it may even be upsetting, but it's important - and it's a film of which I believe even Malik Bendjelloul would be proud.
Paul Stapley is Training and Resources Officer in Into Film's Learning team.
Letters to My Younger Self is an Into Film production, produced by Suited and Booted; in partnership with CAHMS Swindon Wiltshire and Bath and North East Somerset Council, with funds raised by the Malik Bendjelloul Foundation.
The outstanding work of the Boys in Mind project continues, with A Letter to My Younger Self forming the focal point and stimulus for a newly released educational resource.
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With Mental Health Awareness Week in May, the Mental Health Foundation's Richard Warden talks about how film can be used to encourage good mental health.
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