Northwestern’s Film Program Shines Light on Mental Health With Student Work

Northwestern University is playing a key role in bringing mental health stories to the world of film and TV. Its School of Communication features an innovative program that aims to shine a light on mental health and its role in filmed entertainment. Made possible by a gift from the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab for the Promotion of Mental Health via Cinematic Arts creates, supports, and examines original narrative screenwriting, television writing and media making centered on mental health.

“Jessy Pucker is a graduate from Northwestern and she wanted to do something important with psychology and film, and I pitched this program for student filmmakers and screenwriters to think more deeply on how mental illness was being represented in film and television,” says David E. Tolchinsky, professor of radio-TV-film, and director, the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab for the Promotion of Mental Health via Cinematic Arts.

Student filmmakers, faculty and board members engage with the studio lab through new works creation, specialized courses, and enrichment events aimed at tackling complex topics, amplifying marginalized voices, challenging stereotypes, modeling best behaviors on stage and screen and pursuing healing through innovation and inquiry.

“Often, when we think of issues around media and mental health, the first thing that comes to mind is the ways in which mental health is stigmatized and grossly stereotyped in media,” says Dr. Robin R. Means Coleman, Northwestern’s VP and associate provost of diversity and inclusion. “One bothersome representation is the persistent connection made to suicide. The second has to do with how women are presented — wild-eyed, alternating between tears and laughter, all the while being engaged in risky sexual practices. These are the kinds of persistent tropes that the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab is successfully disrupting.” Participants will create and produce material across comedy, drama, and horror that accurately portray all aspects of mental health, in an effort to broaden the audience’s understanding of the subject, while striving to influence societal change.

“The Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab is doing ground-breaking work in the arena of mental health by examining how it’s depicted in our most powerful media,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright, whose latest drama, “Good Night, Oscar,” centers on American pianist Oscar Levant’s personal battle with mental illness. “Film and television are potent forces in our culture; they can be harnessed to bring greater understanding and compassion to the often misunderstood phenomena of mental illness. That’s just one of the lab’s many admirable objectives.”

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