The Story Behind ‘Openness’, an Initiative and Beautiful Short Film to Tackle Loneliness During Lockdown
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Addison Capper speaks with André Chaves, connector at Papel&Caneta, and Great Guns directors Brendo + Gonfiantini about tackling an epidemic within the Covid-19 pandemic
Not long before the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, loneliness had already reached epidemic levels. In 2018, a Cigna study revealed that 46% of Americans sometimes or always feel alone, and 47% reported feeling left out. If society was already facing 'epidemic levels' of loneliness before the Covid-19 pandemic, the concern now becomes about how many more people are feeling its negative effects. According to Mother Jones (April, 2020), the result can be a “slow-motion disaster” for mental health. What's more, recent studies reveal that a quarter of Brits are feeling lonely in the midst of isolation (Mental Health Foundation) and that this situation particularly affects younger people, between 18 and 24 years old (Cambridge Independent). In the US, nearly half of Americans are feeling more lonely than usual (Value Penguin).
André Chaves, a connector at Papel&Caneta, a nonprofit collective made up of global leaders and young people from creative agencies, spotted an epidemic within the pandemic as social distancing took hold across much of the world. In an effort to mitigate the effects of loneliness, and through the combined efforts of a group of creatives, strategists and film directors, André and others at Papel&Caneta developed Openness, a free platform in six languages that brings together these issues and aims to offer a simple and effective solution for dealing with the effects of isolation. The platform provides a call to action with a practical list of messages that serve to initiate dialogue with someone for whom physical distancing has become a trigger for anxiety, fear, depression, and the feeling of loneliness.
To coincide with the launch, a moving short film was shot in different cities around the world by 20 directors. The project was led by Great Guns directorial duo Brendo + Gonfiantini and the resulting short is a beautiful piece of filmmaking, regardless of the constraints of lockdown and social distancing.
To find out more about the Openness initiative and the process behind producing the film, LBB's Addison Capper spoke with André and Brendo + Gonfiantini.
LBB> What was the initial spark for this project? When did you realise you wanted to do something regarding loneliness? What feelings and research led to it?
André> At Papel & Caneta, we are always working on missions around the world and dealing with different social issues. I already knew that in 2018 loneliness had reached epidemic levels. So when social distancing started, it was quite clear that we were facing a new context: an epidemic inside the pandemic, and that it was very important to create a mental health project and help people during this incredibly difficult time.
LBB> And then how did you go about actually creating this whole initiative? It's much bigger than just producing a film!
André> OPENNESS emerged from a creative process divided into two stages. First, a six-day immersion with experts, Brendo+Gonfiantini and professionals from various agencies to work together through Google Meet. It was during this period that we defined the need to create a platform, not just a film. The film would serve as an invitation to get people's attention globally, but the site would serve as inspiration for anyone who would like to help and say something to someone, but doesn’t know how to take the first step. The entire workshop and filming process took about three weeks.
LBB> Once you had the concept locked in, you needed to figure out how to bring it to life. What were your starting points there?
André> The starting point was for Brendo+Gonfiantini to brief and activate a network of film directors from different countries who were willing to contribute to a cause from inside their homes. The first principal was to respect social distancing. The second principal was to make sure that we worked solely in a collaborative manner in order to develop a film that would reflect diversity in the world and illuminate a sense of union and compassion. More than creating a beautiful and inspiring film, it was important for us to instill the idea that during this time, we all need each other, and that we’re all one.
LBB> How did you go about bringing all these different directors and DOPs on board? Did you know them previously?
Brendo+Gonfiantini> We wanted that this message to be shot from as many points of view as possible, as we are all united by social isolation. It was then that we invited directors and DOPs, mostly friends of ours, emerging and established professionals, so that together we could reach a result with a strong image and emotional narrative.
LBB> What kind of brief did you give them? How did you find the process of directing so many different parties?
Brendo+Gonfiantini> Freedom was a major principle of the project. We tried to have each director or DOP’s vision to bring their interpretations of the script, but we also created an extremely detailed creative deck and visual board, which contained some important scenes for the narrative to be told.
LBB> The film is really beautiful and doesn't have the look of many other films produced in lockdown. Was that a conscious decision? How did you ensure you got the level of quality you needed when it came to the footage?
Brendo+Gonfiantini> Since the beginning, this was our goal and challenge: to produce a film with the highest quality possible and with the least resources available. To achieve this, we created a form to be completed by our directors and DOPs so we could understand the technical structure, cast and location for each of them. We chose professionals that we work closely with to make sure a minimum quality of delivery would be achieved. This way, we would be safe with the footage we would receive, and to our surprise, we had nine hours of raw material. The quality in the finishes was also another essential point, so we invited partners in colour grading and music production that we trust and believe into the project.
LBB> It's a very emotional project. Personally, how did you find working on this project?
Brendo+Gonfiantini> It was incredibly immersive and engaging. We saw ourservelves portraying an autobiographical story. Each discussion or scene created was part of our daily life. But it was a process of emotional involvement that we had lived before, because our work is very focused on our LGBTQ+ community and minorities.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Brendo+Gonfiantini> As it is a project that involves a legitimate and current feeling, present in the life of each of the directors and DOPs, our challenge was to make them comfortable and mentally stable after participating in the project. We were happy to receive feedback in which they said how comforting it was to tell, in images, how they were going through the process and how they could contribute to others.