Ash Patel, a filmmaker for the Creative Ministries Department at Territorial Headquarters, released an animated short film called ‘Mum’s Voices’, on Friday 9 July, with support from the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. The film centres around 11-year-old Elijah as he encounters misunderstanding and isolation because of his mother’s experience with schizophrenia.
This video has been produced with a community grant from Like Minds, Like Mine, who help fund projects with the intention of raising awareness around mental distress. Ash explains that the organisation ‘loved the idea because it’s real and based off lived experience, and it’s something that no one’s ever done before’.
The decision to fund the project was made two years ago, in 2019, so Ash spent the beginning of 2020 writing the animation—and then lockdown happened. ‘Animation is so weird; you’ve got to write the script and then storyboard it as best as you can. Then you get illustrators to design the characters and environments, but then you also need to get voice actors. That was the tricky part, getting them to come in during level 2, but it turned out well. I ended up recording here at The Salvation Army studios.’
Ash’s decision to tell this story using animation helps to make a heavy topic more approachable for the classrooms where Ash is hoping it will be shown. ‘I’ve been teaching stop-motion [animation] at my old school. Anything that you show them that’s animated they’re just stoked about, so this might be a really good tool to use to raise awareness around schizophrenia, to teach them about what it could look like and how it affects people.
‘I wanted to write straight from experience. But I found that it might have been too heavy, I don’t want to drop everything on them, I don’t want to traumatise these kids. I wanted to make something that’s more fun and creative and add a bit of humour to it, just to kind of ease them into it.’ In writing the script, Ash tried to add some humour and lighter moments and worked on having the animation itself ‘find the balance of scary and funny’.
For Ash, this video and the story it tells have been a long-time coming. He has wanted to write something based around schizophrenia since he was in university, but he didn’t know how or what this would look like. ‘Originally, I wanted to make something that showed what other people see, but then I was like, I don’t actually know what they see, so I changed it and decided to write from my own perspective.’
This story has particular significance for Ash as he based a lot of Elijah’s experiences on his own childhood memories of growing up with his mother who has schizophrenia. Drawing from direct personal experience, Ash’s storytelling in ‘Mum’s Voices’ presents the characters in a gentle and generous manner, particularly Elijah and his mother, Senara.
Ash also wanted to leave room for the characters to gain understanding and compassion if the story was to continue, and he has shown snippets of this during the end text with stills of Elijah and his friend, and Senara with the woman from Elijah’s school.
Ash wanted young people watching the video to have space to consider and create hope for the characters themselves. ‘It kind of just ends abruptly and there’s no happy ending. The Mental Health Foundation was a bit worried that there’s no real hopefulness, but then sometimes there is no happy ending. I’m sure there are other kids out there who go through the same sort of experience and it isn’t happy for them. But the hopefulness comes from them watching and empathising with the characters and hoping that the attitudes towards them will change. The story is not finished ... I want the kids to finish it for me.’
When having discussions around what is happening in the video and why, Ash is hopeful that not only will people dream up a conclusion to the story, but will be encouraged to tell that story in their own interactions with others.
Connection and Conversation
At the end of the day, Ash hopes that ‘Mum’s Voices’ will open conversations for young people to think about reality outside of their own experiences. Mental health is becoming more a part of everyday conversations, but conditions like schizophrenia are still widely misunderstood. Ash believes that if he can show them that schizophrenia exists and give them an understanding of how it affects people, then they can take that knowledge into high school and into adulthood, and it can better prepare them for when they see it. ‘I think that’s pretty much what I’m aiming to do. The hope is that as people connect and empathise with the characters; they hopefully, in-turn, empathise with people in real life. I think it’ll make New Zealand a better place.’
Although the open ending of the video can help encourage conversations around mental health and the different ways it presents itself, Ash has plans to continue the story with more animation. ‘I do want to finish it; I’m going to work on writing it. I’d want to have some sort of hopefulness. I want the characters to change, like his friend. I want him to grow in understanding of what Senara’s going through and how it affects Elijah.’
To watch ‘Mum’s Voices’, visit the Subcreators Facebook page: facebook.com/subcreators
What you can do to support someone with schizophrenia:
- Listen to what they are going through and try to understand where they are coming from. Their experiences might not be real for you, but they are real for them.
- Simply sit beside them, rather than offering advice or trying to ‘fix’ them. Sometimes, all people need is for someone to listen.
- Support them to make their own decisions. Provide options on what they could do, but make sure that they call the shots and are onboard with any next steps.