Working with a network of nearly 200 hospitals across six countries, Film in Hospital is a groundbreaking European project that helps children who are physically unable to attend cinema screenings gain access to exclusive festival films, while involving them in a wide range of creative activities. In this blog, Davide Abbatescianni (journalist for Cineuropa) speaks to three representatives from Film in Hospital to find out more about their story and future plans.
A Europe-Wide Project
Film in Hospital is an innovative online platform dedicated to providing film screenings and audience engagement activities for children in hospitals, rehabilitation centres or recovering at home. Currently active in six countries, this successful initiative has pan-European ambitions. ‘The project started from some casual chats during our festival, more than ten years ago,’ explained Iris Verhoeven, Director of Belgium’s JEF and one of Film in Hospital’s founders.
‘Our mission is to give every child the ability to participate to cultural events. For us it was important to create a typical festival atmosphere, where children could vote for their favourite titles and interact, through livestreams, directly from hospitals. We then realised this idea was too good to keep for ourselves. After all it was an easy concept, and not too expensive to implement. So later we teamed up with two partners, Croatia’s Kids Meet Art and Sweden’s BUFF. We’ve been working with European subsidies for a few years now, and recently we managed to add three new partners: Slovenia’s Kinodvor, Italy’s Il Nuovo Fantarca and Spain’s Pack Màgic. We’re very proud of how this project has grown,’ she added.
Adapting to the Pandemic
The international platform, targeting 3+, 6+, 9+ and 12+ age groups, as well as the patients’ parents and hospital staff, is rich in side activities. Edita Bilaver Galinec, of Kids Meet Art, told us that before the pandemic much of the activity was taking place entirely onsite, with actors, directors and producers visiting the hospitals as guests. Switching to an online environment has forced each member of the organisation to rethink how to engage with their young audiences. For example, Il Nuovo Fantarca’s Rosa Ferro told us that the crisis halted their stop-motion workshops which usually take place inside the hospitals. In place of these they have started showing films with pre-recorded introductions by the directors, and organised workshops in co-operation with the hospital’s teachers, who were among the few allowed to meet with the children during the emergency.
These changes aside, Verhoeven highlighted how the pandemic changed relatively little in terms of their engagement, since some of the programme has always been delivered virtually. The team, in co-operation with a group of game developers, created a VR app where the child’s bed is magically transported underwater. Thanks to the app, young patients become storytellers and are able to create their own tales and characters.
Film in Hospital’s partner organisations each negotiate the acquisition of feature films’ national rights individually, while a dedicated member of staff handles those of short films, as these are usually easier to acquire in bulk and for all the countries covered by the project. Generally, selected titles must be stories told from a child/youth’s perspective, targeting an audience aged 3 – 15 and conveying a strong message. This results in a final line-up highly diverse in terms of themes, genres, aesthetics, authors, modes of storytelling and cultural backgrounds. ‘We adapt it depending on the specific audience we’re aiming to reach. For example, if children are six we don’t want to show them over-dramatic pieces or those featuring insensitive takes on certain subjects,’ Verhoeven further explained.
‘You are dealing with very sensitive target groups. You don’t want to put something online and then regret it. The usual curatorial approach in a festival gives you freedom to take risks and experiment, but here we need to be more cautious. Another challenge is standing out from the crowded VoD landscape. And, how do we present our project as something “cool”? We’re an educational organisation and sometimes we think we feel too “school-ish.” Also, we need to work on strengthening our communication strategies, how do people find out about our initiatives? You can’t simply go around hospitals with fliers and posters. In this sense, I believe that there’s still great room for growth.’
Speaking about the current selection, Ferro added: ‘The catalogue includes a total of 76 titles, and 12 of them are feature-length films. These are listed on our official website, as well as on our national platforms.’ The line-up includes some of the best European children and youth’s films such as Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea (Ireland), Philip Einstein Lipski, Jørgen Lerdam and Amalie Næsby Fick’s The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear (Denmark), Eva Riley’s Perfect 10 (UK), Steven Wouterlood’s My Extraordinary Summer with Tess (Netherlands), Stefano Cipani’s My Brothers Chases Dinosaurs (Italy) and Frederike Migom’s Binti (Belgium). All of them are streamed through an external provider, Vimeo Pro.
One of the main challenges of working on such an extensive project is time, since all of its members pursue other full-time activities. To ease the workload, tasks are split internally and the leadership of the project is rotated among the different partners. With the ambition of expanding into other European nations, Film in Hospital is open to bringing new organisations on board. ‘Ideally, you would have a little bit of experience in distribution and education, but also have children’s content close to your heart,’ said Verhoeven.
Interestingly, there was no particular example which directly inspired the birth of Film in Hospital: ‘[Initially], we had to ring telecommunications companies to find out whether the internet connection in hospitals was stable enough. We had to perform speed tests. We were pioneers, and those were different times.’ Nevertheless, the initiative is setting the example for new ventures. Ferro disclosed that the added value brought by Film in Hospital within her region (Apulia) led to the local authorities commissioning the creation of a similar online platform for convicted minors.
Before embarking on a similar project, Bilaver Galinec recommended gaining a fair amount of experience in distribution and programming, and in particular to understand fully how healthcare institutions work and how it is possible to engage in dialogue with them. ‘The rest will come with sharing and learning from each other’s work,’ Ferro suggested.
Looking to the Future
In the last part of our chat, Bilaver Galinec and Verhoeven touched upon some future steps the team might take. For example, Verhoeven discovered that some Belgian hospitals are projecting images on the ceilings to distract children from injections or simply entertain them. Film in Hospital is currently in talks to offer screenings of some of their shorts as a valid alternative to wallpapers or plain images.
Bilaver Galinec discussed how three partner bodies might bring added value to the project. One of them would be in charge of collecting the most up-to-date, relevant research on programming content for children in order to provide the team with fresh insights; a second one would work on identifying new potential healthcare institutions and associations to co-operate with, and a third one would be focused on improving the technical side of things. Their support will help Film in Hospital’s staff to make informed decisions and allow more space for their curatorial and communication work.
A bright future seems to await Film in Hospital. To continue its success so far, Verhoeven pointed out two main goals to pursue. The first is to keep on sourcing titles responsibly in order to guarantee the patients’ well-being and enjoyment by offering content they cannot watch on the usual TV channels, Netflix or YouTube. The second is to find ways to bring young patients from different countries closer to each other. They share similar human experiences and strengthening their bonds could be highly beneficial for their wellbeing.