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A portion of a driver's license showing a woman's face... with more of an outtake pose

This nightmare of a driver's license photo is part of film that contains a serious public service announcement. The film is an entry in a contest at the University's School of Public Health.

Picturing health

A film series and public service announcement contest bring health messages home

By Toya Stewart

Filmmakers from near and far rushed to heed the call for entries in the first-ever short filmmaking contest sponsored by the School of Public Health (SPH). The contest was designed as a way to engage the community--locally, nationally and internationally--and to give them a chance to weigh in on global health issues that matter most to them by creating short public service announcement films ranging from five to 30 seconds. Some of those short films will be screened next week at the National Public Health Week film festival, scheduled for April 2-6. The School of Public Health sponsors the annual festival. "The competition and the festival really add to each other," says Paul Bernhardt, a multimedia producer in the School of Public Health who helped to launch the school's first filmmaking contest. "The festival gives people entering the competition a place for their work to be seen, and the competition gives the festival works to show. The two projects can help promote each other--hearing about one, a person ought to hear about the other as well." Though planning for the film festival had long been under way, the time was right for the addition of the public service announcement contest, organizers said. The idea was born when film festival organizer and SPH Director of Alumni Relations Michelle Lian-Anderson asked Bernhardt if he would oversee a filmmaking competition. Her thought was that a contest could help promote public health messages as well as encourage community involvement. Bernhardt says the conversation with Lian-Anderson was "a huge personal revelation" for him, and the project matched his own interests. "I enjoy the challenge of crafting a message that's concise and impacts its audience, and I hoped to find others who do as well," says Bernhardt, who was pleased to see that others shared his passion. Entries about HIV, nutrition and climate change were among the 17 films submitted. Other topics included smoking, organ donation, fire safety, global awareness, global warming, refugee health, youth violence, and suicide prevention.

"The whole goal of [the contest] is [showing] what can you say about public health in a very brief period of time," Finnegan says.

Short videos from both professionals and amateurs are all the rage on the Internet, and the audience for these mini-messages continues to grow through sites such as YouTube. It seemed like a good time to capitalize on the trend, film festival organizers said. Entries fell in two categories: 10 seconds or shorter, and 30 seconds or shorter. Most submissions were in the 30-second category. School of Public Health Dean John R. Finnegan, Jr. praised the contest. "The whole goal of [the contest] is [showing] what can you say about public health in a very brief period of time," Finnegan says. "You can get some very, very profound and impactful messages crammed into a very short period of time. "Lots of people do it," he adds. "They can tell very compelling stories in 10 seconds--I like to think of it as the haiku of the media world." Besides challenging filmmakers, sasys Bernhardt, the contest serves as a public awareness campaign for a global audience; thanks to technology, viewers around the world may see these messages. With that idea, Bernhardt says he thinks the contest will continue to grow. "I really hope we receive more entries next year from people around the world," he says. "There have been a number of established film industries outside Hollywood for generations. And, of course, the mobile technology is available everywhere." SPH Film Festival details: The University of Minnesota School of Public Health and the Minnesota Public Health Association are sponsoring National Public Health Week (NPHW) with a slate of excellent films and discussions. The third annual NPHW Film Festival runs from Monday, April 2, through Friday, April 6. Activities begin at 5:30 p.m. Monday in Mayo Memorial Auditorium, 425 Delaware St. S.E., on the East Bank of the Twin Cities campus. Doors open at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Film themes include aging, immigrant health, HIV and AIDS, climate change and sex education. Panelists will discuss the films and related topics. The films include the Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's quest to halt global warming; "The Split Horn: Life of a Hmong Shaman in America"; "State of Denial," about HIV/AIDS in South Africa; "Living Old," a look at chronic illness in the lives of America's older generation; and a series of short sex education films that includes some from the 1950s as well as the more contemporary "Think MTV: Campus Guide To Safer Sex" and "Abstinence comes to Albuquerque." For more information about the festival and its sponsors, click here. To view the PSA contest entries, click here.