Film Festival Gets Community Excited About Public Health: ‘Let’s Keep Going To the Movies’

This article is presented in partnership with Project HOPE

Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian organization, working side-by-side with local health workers and communities to save lives and improve the health and well-being of people around the world.

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Five people stand on stage holding film clapboards

In 2020, the World Health Organization launched a new endeavor: the Health for All Film Festival, an annual event that uses cinema to improve the health of people around the world.

Since its inaugural run, HAFF has received submissions of more than 4,300 short films from 110 countries, and its catalog currently includes nearly 300 titles, all showcasing important stories about global health.

While any internet user can access these short films for free online, the film festival and accompanying awards banquet takes place at the WHO headquarters in Geneva — a far journey for many folks from various parts of the world.

Health For All Film Festival trophy
Photo courtesy of the World Health Organization

So, this year, the Pan American Health Organization and the Mexican Social Security Institute hosted a sister festival in Mexico City: “Cinema and Health.” 

The festival took place over the course of four days in October, offering a screening cycle that included 11 short films from this year’s HAFF, as well as films made by Mexican directors that deal with topics related to health and welfare.

“Cinema invites us to reflect on emotions. Storytelling is as old as human civilization. It inspires, motivates, creates empathy and helps us find and share solutions together,” PAHO director, Jarbas Barbosa, said during the opening of the festival.

Throughout the festival, guests were invited to presentations by directors, Q&A sessions with experts, and debates that promoted conversation, proposals, and actions to engage the general public through cinema with one common goal: better health.

A row of people sit on stage before an audience at the Cinema and Health festival in Mexico City
Photo courtesy of the Mexican Social Security Institute

“Movies enable us to collect stories about actions for global health and can encourage behavior change by providing knowledge, motivation, or skills needed to motivate people to act,” Barbosa said.

The HAFF short films shown at the festival address a wide range of topics, including: the evolution of Alzheimer’s disease in patients in Mexico, efforts of Brazilian health care workers during COVID-19, and the complex challenges of people battling mental illnesses across the globe. 

Other HAFF films that received awards this year touched on topics such as climate change and public health, the experiences of those with disabilities in Sierra Leone, and sexual and reproductive health in Israel. 

The Cinema and Health festival was held at the Linterna Mágica cinema in Mexico City, a historic building that recently reopened its doors after years of closure and a recent renovation.

The arts — and film specifically — have been hit by the impact of social issues such as labor disputes, COVID-19, and rising costs of living. In fact, a report from the National Cinema Foundation estimates that the U.S. saw the closure of over 2,000 movie theater screens amid the pandemic. 

As the industry continues to attempt to rebound, the Cinema and Health festival is one way global cinephiles can keep the magic of movies alive. 

A movie theater is filled with people
Photo courtesy of the Pan-American Health Organization

“Let’s keep going to the movies,” IMSS director Zoé Robledo said at the festival. “Movies that make us think and reflect.”

Along with the screening, the Cinema and Health festival provided an opportunity to announce the submission guidelines and theme of the fifth-annual HAFF that will take place in 2024.

“Everything WHO does is about stories because everything we do is about people,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, shares on the film festival’s website.

“Ultimately, we hope the festival is not just a way to tell stories, but to change the arc of people’s stories around the world, towards better health.”

Header image courtesy of the Mexican Social Security Institute

Article Details

November 2, 2023 7:20 AM
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