The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival launches its online film programme with a pairing of experimental short films that resonate deeply with the challenges we are facing in our newly transformed world. Focusing on uncertainty and isolation, they are thematically linked by two protagonists who take different approaches to shielding themselves from existential challenges created by circumstances outside their control.

The first of the two shorts is Solastalgia (Millefiore Clarkes, 2019), a gorgeous lyrical film which explores the effect that a global state of uncertainty can have on our mental health, especially when we find it hard to escape the 24-hour news cycle. The central character Ava is troubled by pervasive worries about climate change, and particularly the impact that it will have on the futures of her two young children. It is easy to draw parallels between her situation and how people are finding themselves affected by the current pandemic, especially families with children who have had their usual routines, like going to school, completely destabilised. On the other hand, the film also creates space to reflect on how we urgently need to make changes to what we consider a normal way of life, to ensure that our stability is sustainable and equally spread.

Solastalgia is directed by Millefiore Clarkes, an award-winner at SMHAF 2019 with The Song and the Sorrow, a documentary about Canadian musician Catherine MacLellan and the mental health challenges she has faced after her father Gene took his own life when she was a teenager.

The second film for the opening week is Knock, Knock, Knock (Arom Choi, 2019), a compelling, dialogue-free drama about isolation by Korean director Arom Choi. The protagonist, a young woman, lives in a small, box-life room known as a goshiwon, a type of accommodation originally designed for students, but which now attracts others who are poor, unemployed for isolated from society. The film makes remarkably effective use of a single space to represent the psychological effects of living alone in dilapidated conditions, the despairing neglect of both her room and her self, but also the sense of security that self-isolation at times can bring. However, it also shows the ease with which isolation can lead to anxiety and ultimately the importance of maintaining ties with the outside world.

These films were available for viewing from Mon 4 to Mon 11 May.

The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is led by the Mental Health Foundation