Free films festival tells stories of global health

By Erin Blakemore,

Movies can improve your mood or expand your horizons. But can they help improve your health?

At the World Health Organization’s “Health for All Film Festival,” the answer is yes. The virtual festival features health-themed shorts from around the world — and thanks to the Internet, you can dive in from your laptop or phone.

The WHO commissioned short films in three categories for the 2021 festival: universal health coverage, health emergencies, and better health and well-being. Worldwide, nearly 1,200 filmmakers responded. More than 40 percent tackled the coronavirus pandemic, the agency says. But the films, all under eight minutes in length, cover all types of health-related topics.

Eventually, WHO staff members managed to narrow down the entries to a shortlist of films from places such as India, South Korea, Portugal, Malaysia and the United States. They’ll announce the winner of a grand prix title and three special prizes on May 13.

The shortlist contains documentaries, fiction and animated shorts.

“Mwansa’s Story,” looks at the issue of reproductive health in Zambia. Though abortion is legal there, six out of 10 girls try to end unwanted pregnancies themselves. Through the story of a young woman whose unwanted pregnancy threatened to derail her studies, it illustrates what it’s like to seek an abortion and what the stakes are for women who turn to traditional abortion methods instead of medical ones.

An Israeli public service short, “Fresh is Healthy,” encourages parents to choose fresh foods instead of processed ones for their families. And “The Last Mile Is the Longest” shows how monsoon season makes it hard to treat tuberculosis — and how brave medical professionals travel by foot, motorcycle and even boat to combat it.

At stake are a trophy and grant. But the festival is about more than prizes. “Ultimately, we hope the festival is not just a way to tell stories, but to change the arc of people’s stories around the world, towards better health,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news release.

You can find links to the free films — and tell the jury and filmmakers what you think — at bit.ly/WHOfilmfest.

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