Regular readers of these pages will know that while global health is prioritised as a general theme, the way it is explored ranges from artistic manifestations to coverage of specific clinical conditions and their context-dependent impact. As the ‘Writing Health‘ section demonstrates, I try to unpack what might be understood by health, globally, recognising its many facets, including mental and physical.
Of course, such understandings are limited by the extent to which anyone can really empathise with the reality of another’s daily life however proximal they might be geographically, but I am regularly presented with windows of opportunity that offer, at the very least, a viewing platform into these spaces. One recent example was an invitation to join the East London based ‘Let’s All be Free Film Festival‘ which explores and celebrates what ‘being free’ means to people all over the world, through artistic expression across 5 days, 37 films, 5 venues.
The medium of film is offered up as an opportunity for artists and viewers to enter a forum to discuss what being free means to them, and how peace, prosperity and understanding can be promoted through dialogue and discussion. I joined the festival at the Rich Mix cinema in Shoreditch for a weekend screening of their official selection of shorts aiming to help others see the challenges of life, including the struggles people go through in their daily lives.
The line-up included short (maximum half an hour) fiction, documentary and expression films from directors in Palestine to the USA (for instance, ‘Ironhead‘, a documentary directed by Thomas C. Johnson & Neal Abbott) back to the UK. This jostling of origins, subject matter and types was surprisingly productive, inviting audience engagement across self-consciously brief time frames, inspiring emotion to jolt us from horror to sorrow to triggered laughter. Ten-minutes of ‘Till Death Do Us Part‘, a documentary directed by Penelope Antorkas, introduced us to the idea of freedom in abandonment from reality with an escape into a young man, Grant’s, obsession with horror films which he watches with compulsion and ritual but in a manner that brings him an overwhelming sense of fulfilment and pleasure. This freedom is, in his words, about being ‘terrified but safe’ in being able to inhabit the storylines and rote-learned scripts of Friday the 13th films.
Inherently meta, this sense of personal liberty echoed across ‘In A Flash‘, a non-verbal expression piece directed by Sophie Austin in which we follow a girl shopping in a Moroccan souk with her mother. Tired of waiting, we track the girl’s sighting of a cat and her pursuit of it until the scent goes cold and the piece ends abruptly. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, and Grant of ‘Till Death do us Part’, she discovers a strange and curious world that is somehow liberating, just as our own viewing of the screenings allow us to experience these expressions, albeit second-hand.
Meanwhile, ‘Piece Of Cake‘, directed by Ella Lentini, and ‘Wally’ (25 mins), an Andy Galloway documentary, explored freedom and wellbeing in a more recognisable interpretation marking the coming out of, in the first instance, a young woman to her parents about her same sex relationship, and in ‘Wally’ of a father, Christian and teacher in Jefferson City, Missouri, of being gay to his entire community. ‘Piece of Cake’ explored the run-up to this act of liberation from fears of parental rejection, disillusion or ‘pretension’, punning on the title, with the line ‘BTW, I’m gay’ iced onto a cake baked for her parents on their anniversary visit to her apartment life in New York.
‘Wally’ pieced together interviews with the protagonist’s three daughters, politicising the focus by commenting on the contemporary community and theological implications of verbalising freedom through an open expression of sexuality, and the tension between liberty and legality, social isolation and personal incarceration. The piece pitches from Wally now and then, covering ‘sickness’ and depression that he describes as being on ‘the inside’ and the transition to the heartsickness he experienced following his disclosure, including the supposed separation from his daughters.
Perhaps most recognisably, the longest length short in this screening, ‘The Black Friday‘ directed by Jozef Nateel, is a documentary covering the day of that name in the summer of 2014. During that period, Israel had launched a large-scale military offensive against the Gaza Strip that lasted for 51 days, with one day cited by Amnesty International and other Human Rights organisations as Black Friday exposing evidence of Israeli war-crimes committed in Rafah during this period with the deaths of over 140 Palestinians in the space of 24 hours.
The short struck a balance between interviews with locals who survived this offensive and superimposed text detailing statistics and events of the day. Above all, it literally fleshed out what it might mean to lose 140 people from your immediate community, and the awareness that history would, inevitably repeat itself. The loss of freedom is as much the substance of this film as verbal impressions of what it might mean to live freely. The piece features conversations to camera with Hidaya Shamoon, a journalist and filmmaker based in Rafah. In a particularly moving response, she recalls how a woman questioned her motives in filming the attack on Black Friday, to which Shamoonn responded ‘this will not happen in silence’.
Perhaps this is reflective of the joy and success of this festival: it delivers on its promise to record expressions of freedom, and scales it in terms of experience, singular or plural, global location, all drawing on the inextricable impacts on the health of social interactions with those we share our most intimate lives.
Image Credits: A. Bow-Bertrand