Harbouring Illness: Film Screening and Photography Exhibition

By Esca van Blarikom

On the 13th of September, Esca van Blarikom organised a film screening and exhibition as part of her PhD study on the experiences of working-age adults with multiple long-term health conditions. In this blog, she reflects on this event.

Together with three study participants in my PhD research, I have worked over the past year to produce a short film. Three women who live with a combination of mental and physical long-term health conditions in Tower Hamlets participated in this film project. We decided to work with film as a way for the study participants to get involved in the co-production of the research findings. Additionally, the film allowed us to share the stories emerging from this project with a wider audience.

The film offers insight into the everyday challenges of living with chronic illness amidst an overstretched and underfunded healthcare system. It delves into the effects of social isolation and the struggles that come with maintaining a healthy life in the face of substandard living conditions. With this film, we wanted to do more than just open a window into the lives of these women. We invite the viewer to contemplate new possibilities for living a flourishing life beyond the confines of conventional medical understandings of health and well-being. The film screening was followed by a lively Q&A with myself and the three participants in the film, during which challenges related to polypharmacy and the navigation of complex care systems were discussed in more depth. It was a truly special moment to see the participants in the film take the stage and receive the audience’s appreciation.

In preparation for the production of the film, we organised a participatory photography project. The images participants made for this project (an example is included to the right) and the stories that accompanied them, formed the basis for making the film. Participants thought of themes that they wanted to include in the film, and we decided together on interview questions I would ask while filming. The images participants made also guided us for what to include visually. We followed the film screening on the 13th with a reception, during which the visitors had the opportunity to view the images that laid the groundwork for the production of “Harbouring Illness”.

The screening and exhibition were well-attended by local GPs, policymakers, representatives from patient groups, and researchers and was an excellent opportunity to meet interdisciplinary stakeholders who are invested in the topic of multimorbidity. It was a fantastic event that made me fully aware of the importance of working with creative and participatory methods. The way the participants took ownership over their stories and confidently answered challenging questions from the audience proved that involving participants as creative co-producers can actually affect the ‘reality’ recorded (see also Pink 2007).

We are currently working on organizing additional screenings for “Harbouring Illness”. If you are reading this and are interested in hosting a screening, for educational purposes or otherwise, feel free to get in touch!
My email address is: e.vanblarikom@qmul.ac.uk