Michelle Cameron is a director, cinematographer and photographer based in Wellington. She won a Pūtea Pāpāho/Mental Health Media Grant to develop her animated docuseries Fight or Flight, which is set to be released later this year.
We talked to Michelle about the inspiration behind her docuseries, which shares young people’s stories of mental distress, and what anti-stigma messages she wants the series to communicate.
Where did the idea for Fight or Flight come from?
I wanted to create Fight or Flight for my younger self. When I was younger, I was sexually abused for a number of years and shortly after that, my father died.
Because of the stigma around mental distress and abuse, I struggled on my own for a long time before a family member noticed that something was going on and helped me. Their compassion and care destigmatised these issues for me and I was able to talk about what was going on.
Now I realise that when people discriminate against mental distress or abuse, it is always out of fear. I wanted [the series] to show that feeling safe is important. If you notice that someone else is not acting like themselves, talk to them about it. It may save their life.
What was the overall message behind Fight or Flight?
That it’s okay to feel the hard stuff, and not to under-estimate the things that we go through and brush them aside or pretend like they didn’t happen.
Sometimes we think that ‘others have had it harder than me,’ but when you listen to these guys [the interviewees in the docuseries] and how hard each of them has had it in different ways, it’s a validating experience for you and your life as well.
How did your project aim to end the judgement and shame around mental
We create stigma through fear and lack of understanding. What we judge is something we deny, repress or judge in ourselves.
I hoped the people I interviewed could use their stories to help others, especially when talking about some of the hard bits. Compassion can make all the difference.
I hope Fight or Flight will show that it does matter where you come from and what your story is. Because the world is so vast and diverse, we must accept that we are all different, as that is truly what makes this world an interesting place to be.
How did you find working with the Mental Health Foundation?
The Mental Health Foundation guide you – they provide you with so much support.
They put me through Rākau Roroa [a leadership training programme for people with mental distress]. They were incredible to deal with, especially through the pandemic.
What would you say to someone who is thinking of applying for a grant this
You could definitely do it! All you need is a good idea.
It’s such a huge learning experience both creatively and personally.