For Health, 24 Frames a Second: An Interview with Dr. MarkAlain Dery of the 1st Annual F-NO (Public Health Film Festival of New Orleans)

Photo courtesy of Tulane University

Some years ago, when I was an idealistic Green Party voter, I heard of a new radio station launching in New Orleans called WHIV-FM 102.3. With a distinct left-wing attitude geared towards health care, social justice, and community engagement, WHIV has proven itself as a listening post for all of our residents to not just enjoy but to be enlightened by.

And now, they’re moving from your ears to our eyes.

At the Tulane School of Public Health Downtown Campus, from May 10th to the 12th, WHIV will be presenting the first annual F-NO, a film festival dedicated to teaching, to entertaining, and to providing information on health care, from various local and national perspectives. Films screening will cover everything from gun violence to living with AIDS and then some.

As a registered Democrat (with socialist leanings) now, I’m not just merely interested in this event, I’m incredibly excited for it and future editions. Universal Health Care is a major policy that I support strengthening and expanding, as is boosting the film culture in this city. Combing the two is a no brainer victory.

I had the opportunity to ask a series of questions to Dr. MarkAlain Dery, one of the operators of F-NO, about the mechanics of such a specific film festival and what he hopes it will achieve.

#EndAllWars #HealthCareForAll

(If you wish to support WHIV, click here. For more information on F-NO, click here):

Bill Arceneaux: F-NO is a collaborative effort between health organizations and professionals, bonded by WHIV-FM. How important has this new radio station been in delivering progressive news & views to New Orleans? How important has it been for this event to be representative of various voices?

MarkAlain Dery: F-NO is a collaborative partnership with 102.3FM WHIV-LP and the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

In terms of 102.3FM WHIV-LP being a news source, there is no question that there has been a dearth of progressive news programming in New Orleans. 102.3FM WHIV-LP delivers progressive news programming Monday through Saturday from 6:00 AM – 1:00 PM in an effort to get as many diverse voices on air. It was our intention from the beginning to bring the ‘community’ back to ‘community radio’ and open the air-waves to as many diverse, and progressive, voices as possible. One of our signature statements is ‘WHIV stands for We Honor Independent Voices’, and we feel as though we have been successful in this endeavor.

The mission statement for the non-profit that holds our FCC license (NOSIDA- a 501(c)3 organization) is ‘Advocacy through Innovative Messaging’. We believe the addition of the Public Health Film Festival of New Orleans (F-NO) supports our mission of advocacy- this time through the innovative messaging of film. Keeping to a commitment of diverse representation in public health, we have made sure to include as many different voices signifying the myriad of issues that make up the divergent field of public health.

BA: Is it crucial to the fest for the movies shown to not just be informational & entertaining but also deeply impactful on an emotional level?

MD: This is an extremely important question, one that cannot be underestimated. As human beings, we tend to respond to information in the form of stories rather than statistics- this is a well-studied phenomenon known as the Identifiable Victim Effect (IVE). In short, IVE is the scientific nomenclature given to the oft-quoted ‘A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic”.

This is what makes movies so impactful as a medium to speak to large groups of people. As a scientist and physician, I can make sense of medical statistics, especially as they pertain to my specialty of infectious diseases. It is much more difficult for me to do the same with other fields that utilize statistics despite having a graduate degree in statistics (MPH in statistics). Stories that portray a singular character in a narrative representing a larger problem makes the information more relatable to an audience.

Here is another example of the IVE. You may recall that Ryan White was a teenager in the late 1980s who had acquired HIV (and ultimately died from complications of AIDS) as a result of transfusions from being a hemophiliac. Prior to Mr. Whites’ death, federal resources responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic had not been implemented. This changed dramatically after Mr. Whites’ death, presumably because policy-makers now had a singular face (and story) that was relatable. This translated to successful policy (the Ryan White Care Act) that has saved countless lives.

We are showing several movies that are the quintessential illustration of IVE. Take for example Ama, this is a movie that documents the reprehensible practice of forced sterilization of Native American women on reservations in the 1960s. The documentary follows one woman’s journey as she confronts her past with being forcibly sterilized.

Another film that perfectly illustrates the IVE is Katie and the Black Robin Hood. This is a movie regarding the practice of public defenders filming short movies about their clients (and their origin story) that is shown to judges at the sentencing phase of a criminal case. The judge may be more likely to give lighter sentences if s/he understands the foundation (often poverty) of their client’s life. This is an extremely innovative approach towards adding justice to ‘criminal justice’; using a personal story to help a judge appreciate the real-life effects structural and generational poverty has, as opposed to seeing a shackled person in an orange jumpsuit.

BA: If F-NO were to invite advocates or politicians to speak at screenings, who would you like to pick and why?

MD: What makes F-NO so impactful is the fact that we do invite advocates and experts in the field to speak at the screenings!

Not only are we creating a line-up of extremely meaningful documentaries, we are ending each block of films with available filmmakers, notable experts in the fields and the affected communities that are represented in the movies that will be screened. These moderated panels will be hosted by a local activist or expert in the field of the block of films that are to be shown. The purpose of these panels is to unpack the intensity of the films while focusing on calls to action for health equity.

BA: Similar to what’s happened since the Affordable Care Act passage, our Louisiana Medicaid Expansion has faced and will continue to face opposition and restrictions. Through F-NO, what do you hope audiences will take away from the films with regards to access and coverage?

MD: This is a great question and gets to the heart of what F-NO is trying to do- advocate for health equity. Stepping aside from the more obvious, and bigger, question of why our society does not value health as a human right, we are left with helping the general public that does not advocate for the ACA (or universal health care) to recognize the urgent need for a more comprehensive health system. At this point, attempting to appeal to policymakers on the merits for A) continued expansion of Medicaid/the ACA and/or B) a single payer system/Medicare-for-All is near pointless; their minds are already made up, and they openly share their opposition. Through film and the power behind storytelling, we are hopeful to get across the urgent need of our citizenry to demand equal and unfettered access to quality healthcare in the United States.

BA: How will F-NO mobilize audiences to act after attendance to the movies? Will resources be made available at the events?

MD: Again, another excellent question. The moderated panels that will occur after the films are screened is the place where we will ask the audience to act. The moderators will be tasked with the responsibility of steering the conversations with the panel of speakers as to answer “what next?” or “how can the audience help make a difference?”. In future iterations of F-NO, we would like to have more resources available by community experts to ‘table’ on the topics that correspond to the block of films shown. For example, on the Reproductive Justice block of films, we would love to have the reproductive justice community activists to be available outside of the theater to be able to talk directly with the audience before/after the films are screened to become active in their cause. We envision the same with environmental health films, HIV/AIDS, etc.

Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved.

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