Short films about youth mental health screen May 15

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 5/15/24


The Port Townsend Film Festival is partnering with OWL 360 and the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) to help highlight youth mental health issues through its second …

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Short films about youth mental health screen May 15



The Port Townsend Film Festival is partnering with OWL 360 and the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) to help highlight youth mental health issues through its second “Focus Film” installment in May.

OWL 360 seeks to provide the youth of Jefferson County with opportunities for sustainable independence, while NFFTY is the world's largest film festival for emerging filmmakers who are 24 years old and younger.

On Wednesday, May 15, at 6:30 p.m., films tackling the topic of mental health, through varied film genres and styles, are set to be screened at the Balcony Theatre in Suite 401A at 211 Taylor St. in Port Townsend.

The screening is slated to be followed by a discussion, led by OWL 360 and NFFTY staff, as well as the filmmakers themselves, providing insights into their creative processes, in addition to highlighting local resources available to support mental health for youth in the community.

Those young filmmakers hail from as far afield as New Jersey and Ontario, Canada.

The Canadian duo of Emma Macklin and Daniel Karan are both 25 now, but they were 22 and 23 when they made “Our Highest Priority,” an 11-minute short released in 2022.

Macklin and Karan were able to produce their film for roughly $4,000, thanks to the free labor and equipment usage that came as part of producing it for their thesis. “Our Highest Priority” highlights what they identified as a shortfall in the Canadian college system.

Their slice-of-life drama is drawn from their own experiences, as it centers around a university student who’s suffering from anxiety and depression, as she struggles to navigate her school’s mental health support network.

Macklin cited an incident at the University of Toronto, when a student seeking mental health aid found themselves handcuffed in the school counselor’s office.

“There’s enough stigma already associated, without treating people who are dealing with those issues as though they’re security risks,” Macklin said.

Karan noted that they never set out to make an explicitly political film, since “Our Highest Priority” was informed by their personal lives, while Macklin acknowledged how “isolating” it can be to cope with mental health issues, so they hope their film can make other young people in similar situations know that they’re not alone in their shared plight.

Ian Dani Kim, the 16-year-old East Coast filmmaker of 2023’s nine-minute ROOM, is already an award-winning film director, as both a 2024 YoungArts Award With Distinction Winner, and a 2023 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards National Gold Medalist.

He won the 49th Seattle International Film Festival's Wavemaker Award Grand Jury Prize, the 46th LUCAS Internationales Festival für junge Filmfans' Best Short Film Award in the Teens Section, and the 2024 BFI Future Film Festival's Best New Talent Special Mention.

Kim was originally inspired to become a filmmaker by his own strong emotional reaction to “The Iron Giant” when he was 4 years old. He wanted to inspire similarly melancholic feelings in others, and he’s already made films about adolescent psychology.

Kim credited his parents with funding the production of his stop-motion short film when he was 14 and 15, and he hopes his depiction of an isolated state of mind helps warn others away from isolating themselves from those who might be able to offer them support.

Kim is preparing an arts non-profit organization that would seek to create artistic activities that could eliminate prejudice and stigma against youth with mental health issues.

"We are thrilled to bring these diverse and thought-provoking film experiences to Port Townsend in May," said Danielle McClelland, executive director of the Port Townsend Film Festival. "By showcasing the work of young filmmakers exploring mental health, as well as a compelling sci-fi narrative, we hope to foster deeper connections and conversations within our community."

The May “Focus Film” events are sponsored by Windermere Real Estate and Kristin Manwaring Insurance, and for more information or to purchase tickets, visit