A mental health body for the film industry could help set much-needed standards and hold “bad behaviour” accountable, according to a Sarajevo CineLink panel of producers.

US producer Malikkah Rollins, who is also director of industry and education at DOC NYC and co-founder of mental health initiative Documentality, insisted that more industry-wide resources are needed to tackle the issue.

“The film community doesn’t really have standards and protocols around human resources,” she said. “I think one of the huge issues is that there’s no kind of overarching body over the film industry who is holding folks accountable for bad behaviour that can harm our mental health. 

”It is so important to give basic management training… especially how to manage other people across cultures, genders, race, sexual orientation.”

Panellists also discussed how setting personal boundaries, finding a supportive community and being accountable are ways forward for better mental health in the film industry.

Pamela Drameh, who has worked in large companies such as STXinternational and as an independent producer on smaller productions, said: “One of the key things that I have definitely found is that a lack of boundaries seems to be prevalent all over the place – expecting to work really long hours, expecting to be available all the time, at any time, regardless of what else is going on in your life. I have had to almost miss funerals before because of having to be at work.”

She said that it is important for any employee to set boundaries for themselves and communicate that, even with very powerful bosses. Drameh revealed that her current boss does not have her personal phone number and she only answers her work phone until 7pm.

Rollins agreed and said: “I actually think secretly people in power especially will respect you more if you set your boundaries from the beginning of the relationship. They may try to push those boundaries, but part of your job is to keep reasserting those boundaries…if you don’t, and you show up at 3am to work on a project, they are going to get the message that your boundaries are fluid, which is not healthy.”

Extra stress for marginalised

Everyone in the industry needs to recognise how stresses on a job might be different for different people, according to Robbins. “It’s important for us to admit and be really clear that we all may have mental health and wellbeing issues on a project, but there are definitely marginalised people who potentially can have an extra layer of stress attached when you’re working on a film team in a project,” she said. “That can be people of colour, that can be indigenous people, LGBTQ people, women, etc.”

The panel, titled Staying sane: Mental health in the film industry, was curated and moderated by Pinball London producer Paula Vaccaro, who added: “It’s just so exhausting for every single marginalised identity, but of course the more intersectionality in these identities of a person then the more you have to deal with all these layers and layers.”

UK writer/director/producer Victoria Thomas said changes in perspectives need to start at the education stage. “Film schools we know can be very triggering places largely because of the curriculum, which does centre on a particular culture,” said Thomas.

“Being a lecturer in film school, I was very proud to see this generation of students questioning the curriculum and forcing the film schools to decolonize the curriculum. But at the same time, I have colleagues who can be resistant… I have some colleagues who could not understand, from the perspective of a non-white student or a non-Western student why it was important for them to have industry professionals that look like them as lecturers.”

Importance of community

Finding a community is another key aid in protecting one’s own mental health, all the experts agreed. Rollins explained: “It’s really important to make sure that you have a community of people, not necessarily on the project, but just around you that you can tap into you can lean on. Because the reality is, you’re not going to be able to educate the entire film community. It’s important as a marginalised person to take care of yourself first and to know your limits, about how much change you can actually create… it’s important to have that community before you start the project.”

On a wider level, the panel said being accountable is also important, whether as an individual, a production, a company or at industry level. “I worked on one TV show that hired an HR consultant to encourage a supportive culture on set. I immediately saw what happened when you had leaders who cared about mental health,” Thomas recalled.

“I think accountability is very much a personal thing, I’ve seen it where people want to be held accountable and want to learn and want to use it as a teaching moment, and then I’ve seen other people who are just going through the motions and ticking the box.” 

The speakers also asserted that more management training should be offered across various levels of the industry. Drameh said: “What I try to do as a producer is use the skillsets that I’ve acquired from my corporate job. I tried to implement [those principles] in my work as an independent producer, some of it as simple as paying invoices on time.”

She added that good management training about different working styles “has completely changed my corporate working life. I realized I needed to approach people at different angles in order for us to be able to work together well.”

The panel was presented by Sarajevo’s CineLink platform in partnership with Documentary Campus. Screen International is a media partner of CineLink.