Perhaps it is in the nature of being a documentary maker, but I frequently feel passionate about the subjects that I make films about, writes Media Parents Producer Director Zan Barberton.
Perinatal Mental Health (affecting the mother in pregnancy and after childbirth, family members and the baby itself) is one of those subjects. It seems that more and more people are beginning to understand the importance of this issue, which affects nearly 2 in 10 women and has been calculated to cost the country around £8 billion annually. I have been working on a film about Maternal Mental Health for 3 years, and I’ve been staggered by the amount of ignorance, silence and fear surrounding it. So it is wonderful that the young Royals – The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – have brought their significant influence to raising awareness of the subject.
Last week the Duchess of Cambridge made a speech to introduce a film I have worked long and hard on: “If any of us caught a fever during pregnancy we would seek advice and support from a doctor” she said “getting help with our mental health is no different”. It feels like a tipping point. Slowly, slowly, the silence is lifting and this important subject is getting talked about.
The project is led by charity Best Beginnings, the brainchild of Alison Baum, a former BBC producer herself, and a bit of a force of nature. She is passionate about finding innovative ways to communicate health information and is a huge cheerleader for the power of film. I could probably write a few pages about Alison (she just got an OBE) but I suggest you go to their web site!
The series of 8 films is called “Out of the Blue”. I filmed, directed and edited 3 of them. The idea is to allow women to speak openly about their experiences, breaking the silence and reducing stigma. It is an unusual type of filmmaking: obs doc in style, with high production values, but at heart informational. Every film had to hit specific “learning points” and was viewed and reviewed by a whole team parents, frontline healthcare professionals, Royal Colleges and other professional bodies so that it would provide proper, medically-checked information. This was a painfully slow process and meant that the project took around three years from start to finish – the gestation of a baby elephant.
The production company was Heirloom Media, run by the talented Jacqui Smith, an executive producer on science programmes for BBC Scotland. A working mum herself, she allowed me to arrange my shoots and editing around my availability – which really worked for this project. I was honest about the time I spent on it and invoiced accordingly, and this meant that I was able to spend time with my family, or work on other projects during the slow periods. This way of working has meant that I have been able to regularly shoot – a part of filmmaking that I love.
Structuring this sort of film presented challenges. We decided from the outset that it would all be told in the past. On a practical level, consent could be tricky if we were filming present-tense stories with women suffering from mental illness. Aside from the practicalities, our target audience was potentially vulnerable new mums, so we wanted the film to be as reassuring as possible. A key message is that you can and will get better – so it helps to see healthy people on screen. We were lucky to have some wonderfully grounded and articulate contributors who carry the films with style and even humour. I am always humbled by the courage of people who choose to share their most painful experiences to help others… it is part of the privilege and responsibility of documentary work.
The films were of course made in close contact with the contributors, who viewed it regularly from the rough-cut stage, and whose feedback was taken extremely seriously. One of the characters was shown coming very close to suicide in the film and I wondered about whether it was too raw an experience to expose an audience of vulnerable mothers to. After she had seen the film she said something that really convinced me: Seeing her story on screen had allowed her to understand that her experience was a symptom of an illness rather than an act of selfishness. She said that she finally forgave herself. Just hearing that made it all worth it.
The Out of the Blue series is available online on the Best Beginnings web site, and is also on the Baby Buddy App. Looking after your mental health is important even if you are well…and especially if you are a parent. So show it to your friends with babies!
http://www.mediaparents.co.uk/freelancers/3078/zan-barberton Zan Barberton is currently looking for PD work or edit /edit producing. Find her CV on the above link at Media Parents.