100 SECONDS ON THE RED SOFA: Singapore Mental Health Film Festival4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Cheryl Tan is the festival director of the Singapore Mental Health Film Festival (SMHFF), a festival that aims to challenge the stigma of mental illnesses in Singapore through film, conversations and workshops. Its inaugural edition in 2019 featured a slew of films tackling mental illnesses ranging from early on-set dementia to schizophrenia, which were then followed by panel discussions by mental health professionals. Films featured include No Letting Go, Still Alice, and Much Too Young.
The festival returns in 2020 and is set to take place at the National Gallery Singapore from 27 February to 1 March 2020, with tickets now on sale.
This edition will look to have a more seamless experience for audiences and members of the public at the festival. To this end, the SMHFF has brought on board five partners – the Alzheimer’s Disease Association, Singapore Association for Mental Health, the Community Health Assessment Team, Shan You Counselling Centre, and the Caregivers Alliance – each with their own booths at the festival. Festival attendees and members of the public can go to these five booths, get a stamp in their ‘passport’ after finishing an activity, and stand a chance to win a two night stay at the Mandarin Oriental.
To bolster the festival’s efforts, it launched the SMHFF Short Film Youth Competition. Youths aged between 15 to 35 were tasked with producing a short film that focuses on at least one of the five topics: dementia, caregiving, depression and suicide, creative expressions, and youth mental health. The winning short film is slated to be screened at the festival’s opening night.
The line-up of films for SMHFF 2020 is yet to be announced at the time of writing.
For Cheryl, the idea for a film festival themed around mental illnesses came in a dark period of her life. “It sparked off from my own history of suicidal tendencies, depression and anxiety,” she explains. “It wasn’t easy to articulate to my family and friends the amount of pain that I was going through in those dark times.” That was when she set forth to find a way for people to understand the struggles that people with mental illnesses go through – especially with how “invisible” it can be.
Cheryl brought two and two together during an experience at a film festival. She says, “I was thinking to myself that if films are able to move me so much, can I then replicate a film festival and allow individuals to go through a journey with a person or a family who is coping with someone with mental illness.”
After bouncing ideas off people in the mental health scene, film industry and creative industry, the team submitted its first grant to the Tote Board Community Healthcare Fund – complete with a large stack of research coming in from different film festivals around the world on different social issues. The hard work would pay off with the whole process ended up being “wasn’t as complicated” as Cheryl expected. She reasons, “We understand that they must have believed in all of the research that we have put forth and the social impact [the film festival] would create.”
A key part of Cheryl’s role as festival director is the curation of films, which is understandably a delicate process when used to discuss issues surrounding mental health. Her selection consists of films that have an ending where everything comes to a resolution with audiences not left hanging in the air, and that these resolutions are centered around family togetherness or progress through therapy or medication. She does not deny that films can be triggering, and the team hopes that they can create a safe enough space through activities, such as an anonymous panel questioning platform that will allow people not to be intimidated to ask questions.
Moving on towards 2020, Cheryl concludes, “2019 turned out to be a mega-success and we are super stoked with the support that everyone has given us. We just want to push forward. Just through the surveys, we found that people had a deeper understanding about mental illnesses once they walked out of the theatre. That’s the kind of impact that we wanted to push forth and this is why we wanted to push forward.”
The festival is currently raising funds to support the festival operations and management, advertising and marketing, and film screening licenses. Find out more at this website.
In the meantime, check out the festival’s official trailer here.
About 100 Seconds On The Red Sofa
100 Seconds On The Red Sofa shines the spotlight on movers and shakers in the Singapore film and media scene, with each episode featuring people that are making waves and contributing to the industry’s growth and enrichment.
The Red Sofa has come a long way and has a rich history, dating all the way back to Sinema Old School in 2007. It’s seen a generation of young local filmmakers come into their own; now we’re dusting it off for another round.