Through the Lens of Culture


By submitting a film in the Through the Lens of Culture category young filmmakers are encouraged to explore the topics of suicide prevention and mental health through the lens of a particular culture. It is important to note that all of the submission requirements that are part of the Suicide Prevention and Mental Health categories still apply but with an additional level of complexity and creativity focused on culture.

There are many different definitions for culture, but here is the one we use for the purposes of providing direction to our filmmakers: Culture is the characteristics and perspectives of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, ethnicity, nationality, religion, cuisine, social habits, sexual orientation, a shared experience, music, arts and more. And when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention culture can influence how and if we talk about these topics, whether or not we seek help, what kind of help, and from whom.

To ensure you score the highest possible points in this category and for important background information, tools, and requirements review these links:

Check out this video for a brief overview of the Through the Lens of Culture submission category

In addition to the Content scoring measures below, films in this category must also meet the following criteria:

1. Films must be 60 seconds in length (this includes the required end slate but does not include the required title slide).

2. All films need to include captioning. Films are encouraged to be submitted in languages other than English, but all films in this category are required to include captioning, even if the film is in English.


  • If the film is in English, captioning is required to allow for the wide dissemination of the films to all people including communities such as the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or English Language Learners.
  • These films will be used in a variety of settings and evaluated by a panel of judges. To assist the judging process, knowing that it will be difficult to have a panel of judges for each language, films must have English closed captioning to assist in fair scoring of films.
  • We encourage films in all languages and are hopeful to receive submissions in sign language and appropriate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Visit the submission toolbox for tips and support if you are interested in this!

What is the difference between captioning and subtitles?

  • Captioning (also called closed captioning),  is commonly used as a service to aid deaf and hearing-impaired audiences. They usually appear as white text within a black box, appearing a second or two after being spoken.
  • Subtitling is most frequently used as a way of translating a medium into another language so that speakers of other languages can enjoy it.
  • You do not need to use closed captioning or subtitling software to include captioning in your film. What we are looking for is for your film to include text in English that allows the viewer to fully comprehend your film, whether because of a linguistic barrier or hearing impairment. The primary goal of captions and subtitles is expanding audiences and allowing everyone to enjoy your film!

For more information about closed captioning click here.

Content Scoring Measures:

In addition to the mental health or suicide prevention criteria, films entered into the “Through the Lens of Culture” category should explore suicide prevention or mental health through the lens of a particular culture.  Your film should send a positive message about the importance of supporting others and how people can play a vital role in ensuring that all young people regardless of their culture, or group association, get the help they need. A film might do a wonderful job in presenting information about or from the perspective of a particular culture, but does it also make a connection to how this influences help-seeking, suicide prevention, mental health, mental illness, and/or reducing stigma related to mental illness? This can be done in many different ways and here are a few ideas:

  • Explore how reducing mental health stigma and encouraging people to seek help might look different depending on our culture and the way we were brought up. Your film could dispel myths and misconceptions about mental health and suicide prevention that might be prevalent in a particular culture and show that seeking help is not shameful, mental illnesses are common and treatable, and recovery is possible.
  • Explore generational differences. The way we think about and talk about mental health and suicide can be influenced by generational differences between grandparents and parents, or parents and children.  To educate an older generation about the warning signs of suicide, acceptance, or about the importance of supporting young people’s mental health and getting help, you might want to consider creating your film in their primary language and to think about specific views and terms about suicide or mental health that they have grown up with.
  • Demonstrate how cultural groups can provide support and strength when dealing with mental health challenges or emotional crises. Characteristics, traditions, healing practices, and other support from our culture can be protective and positively impact our mental health.
  • Inspire Action. Be creative and create a message that will inspire positive action about mental health or suicide prevention. Think of it this way:  After someone watches this film what are they asked to do? Will the film inspire them to feel, act or think differently?  We want the films to be action-oriented and encourage change and support. For instance, where to get help, how to offer support to someone, how to get involved, or learn more information.  We have asked our young filmmakers to be creative:  To not just tell someone what to do, but show them how to do this.  For example:
    • If you are creating a film from the perspective of the LGBTQ community, you can recommend individuals to join a GSA club.
    • Another possibility could be to encourage faith leaders to be aware of the warning signs of suicide and more accepting of people with mental illness. A great resource is Mental Health Ministries.

These are just a few examples, but think about how you want people who watch your film to feel, think, or act differently.

Tip! This is a very competitive category and we encourage you to view some of the films that were submitted last year. For your film to score high, it is important to connect culture with suicide prevention and mental health and to explore how the culture you chose to focus on influences openly talking about these topics among friends and family members, seeking help and supporting others. For example, it is great to create a film in Spanish, Chinese, or using sign language, but take it a step further and focus on cultural perspectives, cultural strengths, or cultural practices that might encourage people who are part of that culture to seek help or show how loved ones can support someone in distress. If you are going to attempt to make a film from the perspective of arts or dance culture (or something similar), it is not enough to show people creating art or dancing in your film; take it a step further and demonstrate how being part of these cultures can influence young people’s thoughts about suicide and mental health, getting help, offering support and standing up for others.

See note below in “What Not To Do!” about how it is okay to talk about how life problems and cultural factors may impact a person’s ability to talk about their problems or seek help or that increase a person’s risk for suicide such as family issues (pressure to succeed, acculturation, gender identity) or social issues (bullying, break-ups). And to talk about these issues and life problems as a possible contributing factor to why a young person might be feeling hopeless, drinking more or isolating themselves (which are warning signs for suicide), but the film should not point to just one of these events as the cause of suicide.

What Not To Do!

Films should avoid sending the message that any particular culture is more at risk for suicide or more likely to develop mental illness.

  • People from all cultures are affected by mental illness and suicide. It is important that the message of the film does not reinforce negative stereotypes. For example, the film should not insinuate that just by being part of a culture or group, a person is more likely to attempt suicide or have a mental illness. By using data inappropriately, or making generalities, the film might inadvertently increase stigma or reduce protective factors around suicide.
  • For example, avoid making statements that people from a particular group are more at risk of developing a mental illness or more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Remember that it is okay to talk about life problems and cultural factors that may impact a person’s ability to talk about their problems or seek help or that increase a person’s risk for suicide such as family issues (pressure to succeed, acculturation, gender identity) or social issues (bullying, break-ups). And to talk about these issues and life problems as possible contributing factors to why a young person might be feeling hopeless, drinking more, or isolating themselves (which are warning signs for suicide), but the film should not point to just one of these events as the cause of suicide.  The truth is that not one of these events causes suicide and usually a person is dealing with multiple tough situations and is showing warning signs.

And please remember to carefully read the Disqualification Sections for the Suicide Prevention and Mental Health categories. This includes:

  • Portrayals of suicide deaths or attempts (such as a person jumping off a building or bridge, or holding a gun to their head). Portraying suicide attempts and means, even in dramatization, can increase the chances of an attempt by someone who might be thinking about suicide and exposed to the film. Note: Films should also avoid showing actions or steps leading up to an attempt (e.g., standing on a bridge, holding pills).
  • Insensitivity to racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, gender, or other cultural diversities. All individuals should be realistically and respectfully depicted.
  • Use of terms like “crazy” and “psycho” without explicitly communicating to the audience that these terms are unacceptable. If the film does not verbally communicate that using derogatory terms is unwelcome, the film will be disqualified. Our recommendation is to avoid labels of any kind in order to keep the message positive.
  • Including developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, etc. Though the difference between developmental disabilities and mental illness is not cut and dry, it is best to avoid making a film about developmental disabilities and instead focus on mental health and/or mental health challenges.
  • Accidentally reinforcing stereotypes of people living with a mental health challenge such as: being dangerous or violent, disabled or homeless, helpless, or being personally to blame for their condition. Although popular culture and the media often associate mental illness with crime or acting violently, people living with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime. It is important to steer clear of perpetuating myths and stereotypes in order to produce an accurate, respectful, and mindful film.
If you are experiencing an emotional crisis, are thinking about suicide or are concerned about a friend, call or text 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (24/7)
Directing Change is part of statewide efforts to prevent suicide, reduce stigma and discrimination related to mental illness, and to promote the mental health and wellness of students. These initiatives are funded by counties through the Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63) and administered by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities.
Suicide Prevention Awareness Your Social Marketer, Inc.