From the very beginning, Gary Black wanted to show fellow public health workers that you don't need a big budget or a fancy studio to make a film that resonates with the audience. And he should know: As a founder and co-organizer of the Annual APHA Film Festival, he's seen how far a little creativity and lot of passion can go.
"We always wanted to encourage people to do their own work...to really make it grassroots," says Black, a member of the APHA Public Health Education and Health Promotion Section's Health Communication Working Group, which plans the film festival in partnership with the International Health Section. "We need to continue developing a visual community and storytelling is one of the most important parts of that — it's the way we learn new information and retain it. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words...but it's the storytelling that I think is most important."
This year at the 140th APHA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the APHA Film Festival is celebrating its ninth year. Black says the member-driven festival has grown from 20 submissions its first year to 80 submissions this year — "and every different type of presentation you can imagine, we get it." From short public service announcements to full-length documentaries and everything in between, the film festival is an opportunity to "experience something different," Black says. (The Health Communication Working Group organizes submissions on domestic topics, while the International Health Section organizes submissions on global topics.)
"We've all gone browsing through YouTube and Netflix and watched a little bit of this and that — that's the kind of experience we'll be providing for people," he says.
The U.S. portion of the APHA Film Festival is spread over five sessions, Oct. 29–31, and the international films over three sessions on Oct. 29. All of the submissions get some time up on the silver screen, even if it's just an excerpt from a longer film entry. (Black jokes that it's not uncommon to hear "audible groans from the audience" when the excerpt from a really good film comes to an end.) At each session, Black says a handout will be available with more background info on the films presented.
Here's just a few highlights on what you can expect to see:
• “No Excuses”: Public service announcements in English and Spanish that educate men and women ages 50 and older on the importance of regular colorectal cancer screenings.
• “Healthy Dance”: An educational music video about diabetes prevention and control created by youth in East Harlem.
• “Meaning of Driving in Later Life”: A piece about the stresses that come when you can no longer drive.
Black says he receives film submissions on every public health topic imaginable. But he notes that youth-driven projects have always left an impression on him — "they always tend to be exciting, compelling and I think it's a very effective technique."
"Public health really needs to be using these tools," Black says. "This is how young people get information and we need to be a part of it."
To read more about the 9th Annual APHA Film Festival, visit the online program. And if you're interested in meeting experts in health communications, stop by the Health Communication Working Group social on Sunday, Oct. 28, from 6-8 p.m. (Check the printed Annual Meeting program you'll receive in San Fran for room numbers.)
Above, one of the CDC's "No Excuses" public service announcements.