By Because 12 APRIL, 2017 

 By  Aya Nader

The subject of mental illness is a taboo one in most of Egypt’s social circles. Those suffering from mental illnesses are either regarded as “crazy” or refuse to acknowledge that they need professional help, no doubt due to a society that frowns upon the notion of psychiatry.  

MedFest, a movie forum that brings movies and medicine together, has this year decided to shed light on the off-limits topic of mental health and wellbeing with its Egypt edition. BECAUSE sat down for a chat with one of the local edition’s founders, medical doctor Mina El Naggar, to discuss the festival’s approach to this year’s theme.

Tell us a bit about MedFest, what it is and how it began.

MedFest is a medical themed interactive film festival screening a carefully selected group of short films, followed by discussions between people working in the health care and medical fields, medical students, psychologists, filmmakers and the general audience.

It began more than a year ago, when I met Dr. Khalid Ali, a professor of geriatrics and cinema critic, during the European film panorama and we found that we share similar interests in art and medicine. Later, he attended the UK version of MedFest, after which he suggested: why don’t we make this event in Egypt? So, we started building our own edition that is inspired by the UK edition, with Egyptian, Arab, and international films relevant to our cultural problems along with the international selection of the MedFest UK.

We started in Cairo and screened 14 films over two days. This year the forum is taking place in Alexandria on April 22. We are tweaking it a bit by making the festival for only one day and adding three award winning films from Sudan, Switzerland and Colombia produced in 2016. These films will be added to the previous selection, which includes films from the UK, Canada, the UAE and Egypt. The films vary between short features, animations, documentary and film essays.

How have people reacted to the festival so far?

In Cairo, around 250 people spanning all age groups and professions attended. The overall response was that it’s very interesting to see these films through the eyes of medicine, which open up new humane dimensions and aspects of the screened films. 

Why do you think this is important?

I think it’s important to start building this conversation between filmmakers and people in the health care system as both are powerful tools that affect our being in this interactive setting. Later on, we are hoping that it spreads and has a cumulative effect over the years for filmmakers to produce more accurate and non-stigmatizing films about medical conditions and to create an understanding for health care providers about the power of film and cinema.

How do you think Egyptians view mental illness?

I think people vary in how they view mental illness. Mostly they over dramatize or stigmatize the idea of mental illness or on the other side they deal super lightly with those who have a mental health issue or make a joke out of it. Very few actually deal with mental health issues with integrity.  

What kind of change are you trying to bring about?

A slow, but steady, awareness by keeping the event active on a yearly basis, and discussing different medical topics from there psychological/humane aspect and the aspect of an artistic filmmaker to give both sides a better understanding.  

What should be done to change the perspective of those who find it shameful?

Massive awareness campaigns about mental health even before the onset of mental illness, the presence of a psychologist in every institute, programs should deal with them properly and more initiatives like MedFest ought to be initiated.

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