Whether it’s the impact of the actors, the storyline, the soundtrack or the images, movies open many pathways to understand our own feelings and connect with others. Started in 2007 at Toronto General Hospital, the Toronto International Film Festival’s Reel Comfort program helps make those connections available to clients in mental-health programs, who may feel particularly cut off from the world during their hospital stays. In 2014, it delivered more than 60 free events to 832 participants.
Program coordinator Elysse Leonard (BSc 2010 Innis, MA 2011) works with staff at each of four Toronto hospitals to choose films for regular events each month, year-round. Film screenings feature a special guest – such as a screenwriter, director or actor – who contributes to a post-movie discussion. Hands-on workshops tackle topics from acting to stop-motion animation to special-effects makeup. Last year, Reel Comfort workshop participants created nine animated short films, three music videos and two screenplays. One of them shared this thumbs-up: “It gives us an opportunity to keep our minds active, and it’s fun.”
For Leonard, who majored in both psychology and cinema studies, coordinating Reel Comfort “has been very gratifying. It’s the perfect combination of my interests and what I learned in school.”