Good Cinema Can Protect Children’s Mental Health From Pandemic-Induced Stress: Santanu Mishra

Smile Int'l Film Festival For Children & Youth poster. (Courtesy: Facebook @siffcy) - Sakshi Post

Over the past two years, India has been grappling with the pandemic. This has wreaked havoc on Children’s mental health. In this scenario, good cinema for children promises to hold a ray of hope, helping build character, and even offering an escape to young minds. In an interview with Reshmi AR, Santanu Mishra, Chairman, Smile International Film Festival for Children & Youth (SIFFCY), and Co-Founder, Smile Foundation talks about the role that good cinema can play in healing and shaping young minds, and the need for the general public to promote such cinema.

Q.1 Over the past two years, as the world has battled the after-effects of Covid-19, children's mental health has been severely affected. What role have films played in restoring the mental health and well-being of children and young people?

Mr. Santanu Mishra: The past two years have impacted every individual’s life, from young children to adults alike. Until recently, children were disconnected from their school environment and interactions with their peers. This sudden change had an impact on their mental health and wellbeing. According to UNICEF data, more than 330 million youngsters have been stuck at home, till March 2021, for at least nine months. To recover from the impacts of the pandemic, films through quality content have allowed children to cope with the happenings. Film as a medium of intervention helps strengthen mental health and helps children adapt to the current happenings. Films help address issues such as depression, loneliness, and aggression that children and young adults may have experienced during the pandemic. ‘Good cinema’ is currently the need of the hour to help children and young adults move forwards from the happenings of the pandemic and return to their new normal in the educational and social landscape. 

Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth or SIFFCY aims to bring positivity and engage, educate, and empower children and youth by screening meaningful films, and by hosting interactive sessions, capacity-building activities and workshops.

Q.2 What role do films play in the character development of children? Do you think children and the youth see films as a serious medium for change?

Mr. Santanu Mishra: Children and young adults are influenced by audio or visual content that they engage with. Films become an engaging alternative to stimulate discussion among children and young adults about vital personal, societal, moral, and global issues. Children look at characters portrayed in films as role models and look up to them for inspiration, thus, the portrayal of characters in films is crucial when addressing children and young audiences as they impact and help in character development. The good cinema also helps inculcate empathy among children. If sensitized early, children and youth can become the best change agents, be it in their family, community or even for the nation. Therefore, films are a serious medium of change for our children and youth. 

Q.3 Cinema for children is a diminishing category in India, at least in mainstream cinema. How can this change and films for children and the youth be brought back to the mainstream?

Mr. Santanu Mishra: The pandemic saw larger audiences engaging with films through different forms while locked in their homes. While mainstream filmmakers are not to be seen creating cinema for children, there are several small productions engaged and bringing out quality cinema focusing on children and young adults. It is important to highlight quality cinema with a message. Through SIFFCY, we have been providing a stage for celebrating ‘good cinema’ to reach out to the children and youth. By providing these good films a platform, we aim to motivate filmmakers to make many more such films and bring them to the mainstream. 

Q.4 What is new in the latest edition of Smile International Film Festival for Children & Youth?

Mr. Santanu Mishra: The eighth edition of Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth film festival will be held virtually from April 24, 2022. This edition of SIFFCY will have a special focus on cinema from Germany, Iran, the Czech Republic, and Latin America. 

The festival will screen more than 100 films from 50 countries, from different categories and genres, through its online platform. The films showcased will include award-winning new releases and international classics. With an international jury from 15 counties, the festival brings a global perspective. 

The bouquet of films will range from professional feature films, short films and documentaries to experimental films made by children. The festival will also host multiple workshops and discussion forums for children and the youth.

The 8th edition of the film festival will celebrate the cinematic journey of good cinema.

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