One of the biggest issues in the film industry is the lack of standards and protocols surrounding human resources, argued panelists during Sarajevo Film Festival’s “Staying Sane: Mental Health in the Film Industry” panel.
“There is no overarching body holding folks accountable for bad behavior that can harm our mental health, so what do we have? Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin, who have been abusing people for decades,” said Malikkah Rollins, co-founder of Documentality – a new organization made up of psychotherapists and filmmakers aiming to normalize conversation about mental health and wellbeing.
“There are some entities that are going through self-questioning because they think they have to, but others genuinely wanted to evolve,” she said, mentioning the murder of George Floyd as one of the catalysts. Adding that marginalized groups, from indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities to people of color and women, tend to deal with “an extra layer of stress” when working on a project, simply because of historical inequities and injustices.
Producer Pamela Drameh noted a prevalent lack of boundaries, with superiors expecting people to be available “all the time, at any time,” regardless of what is going on in their lives. Which is why, it was argued, such boundaries need to be set from the beginning and then continuously reasserted.
“I almost had to miss funerals because of work. Now, my boss doesn’t have my real phone number. He has my work number, which isn’t operational past 7 p.m. Ever,” she said, also mentioning the industry’s drinking culture, which tends to exclude non-drinkers. “As a Black woman, I am not a part of it – my parents don’t drink, never went to a pub. I always feel like I need to step up.”
According to writer-director Victoria Thomas, many industry professionals fail to acknowledge their ignorance. Be it at film schools, still championing problematic “classics” and failing to diversify their lecturing pool, or on sets.
“I had to work with people who didn’t understand why our crew needed to be diverse. My executive producer said: ‘It’s not about who makes the film; it’s about what’s on the screen.’ But when you are in a minority, how do you call that out? As a Black woman, you get labelled as ‘angry’ and ‘aggressive’,” she said.
One way to deal with such issues? By listening to one’s instinct, “that little voice inside of our head that we often tend to ignore,” noted Rollins.
“It’s really important to acknowledge that I am not being treated properly, my story is not treated properly and I am not crazy – this is real and it’s actually happening,” she said, stressing the value of creating a community one can turn to in times of crisis. Preferably before starting a project.
“In the world of psychology, people call it ‘protective factors.’ The reality is that you are not going to be able to educate everyone you are working with. As a marginalized person, it’s so important to take care of yourself first and know your limits about how much change you can create.”
While people management programs help producers communicate better, Paula Alvarez Vaccaro noted that some are still not aware of such concepts as micro-aggressions and gaslighting, often mistaking resilience for strength.
“If you go to a shopping center and crash someone’s car, you never leave the house thinking you are going to do that. But that doesn’t mean the lack of intention didn’t make that dent,” she said. “We are so used to looking at intentionality and niceness, but if people are ‘nicely’ turning your life into hell, where do you turn to?”
Calling out bullies taking advantage of their privileged position is crucial, said Thomas, instead of telling their victims how to cope with their erratic behavior. As well as making people realize they are not alone in their struggle.
“You will end up banging your head against the wall if you try to make this change happen all by yourself. Sadly, and luckily, there are many colleagues who have experienced it too,” said Rollins.
“Your job is to get a film done. Your job is not to be abused. And if you are someone in power, it’s so important for you to stand up and speak. For better or for worse, the industry listens to you. Do something on behalf of your marginalized brothers and sisters.”