Devyani Rana, a third-year economics student, said she covered up her homesickness when she first came to college with a smile to say that everything was fine.
It was only after one of her friends asked her if she was really okay that she was able to open up.
These experiences inspired the script for “You, Me, Us,” a short film that she wrote and produced with friends for the Directing Change student film contest.
Directing Change, which is currently in its third year, is an initiative through California Mental Health Services Authority that attempts to engage youth on the subject of mental health through cinema.
Rana, who had previously been a part of the #ENDTHESTIGMA project in All of Us, a campus-wide mental health campaign, said she and her friends entered the competition on a whim when they saw a flyer in the dorms.
Earlier this month, the film “You, Me, Us” placed first in the Ending the Silence category for the University of California, which is geared towards films that seek to end the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
In the film, a man goes out with a smiling mask around his daily life and his friends, only removing it when someone reaches past superficial conversation.
“I always wanted the idea of having a mask on – that was fascinating to me,” Rana said. “We feel a wide range of emotions especially when dealing with sadness or depression. We tend not to talk about it with people, and we tend to put on these braver faces.”
The production was a mad rush over the four days of Thanksgiving weekend, with Rana and her fellow filmmakers casting mostly from Hedrick Summit staff.
The five-minute film was dropped to one minute as scenes and ideas were left on the cutting room floor to make a tighter narrative.
“There were parts that we cut that I was like ‘oh my god,’ I can’t believe we’re taking that out, but I knew that we had to do it to keep the core of the film,” Rana said.
With the trimming, the film ended up successful, and the four main members of the production crew plan to invest the $1,000 prize in a larger, more ambitious project over the summer.
“The new project will be about the intersectionality between mental health and relationships, about how a lack of communication on mental health can impact relationships,” Rana said.
Stan Collins, a suicide prevention specialist and the coordinator for Directing Change, said the contest started as a way to get high schoolers to start a discussion about mental health on their campuses.
Since 2014, a separate UC category has given college students an opportunity to do the same.
“UC recognized what we recognized, that this is a positive educational project that can be spread through the media and social media,” said Wayne Clark, the executive director of the California Mental Health Services Authority and a judge for the contest.
But Directing Change isn’t just for students; Collins said the contest was also meant to engage and educate the wide variety of judges for the contest.
The judges for the films, which include mental health professionals, news media and entertainment figures, benefit from receiving a more accurate picture of mental health, especially among youth.
“As a judge, it’s a learning process. There are things that you see in the films that you didn’t know or that you might have forgotten,” Clark said.
Both Clark and Collins also spoke about the value of having students create films that address vital issues in mental health.
“As professionals in the field, it’s one thing to think we know what the youth want to hear,” Collins said. “It’s another to have them telling their own stories.”