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An exploration of how film and TV portray mental health

New symposium brings industry leaders and scholars to Northwestern for three-day event
travon free
Two-time Emmy and Peabody Award-winning actor, writer and comedian Travon Free screens “Two Distant Strangers” as part of the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab’s inaugural symposium on Friday, May 26, at Wirtz Center Chicago. Photo by Travon Free

Northwestern University’s Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab for the Promotion of Mental Health via Cinematic Arts is hosting an inaugural symposium “Media and Mental Health: Exploring Contemporary Representations of Madness, Melancholy, and Trauma in Film and Television” May 25 to May 27 on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses.

Travon Free, three-time Emmy and Peabody Award-winning actor, writer and comedian, will screen his Academy Award-winning film, “Two Distant Strangers,” which examines the deaths of Black Americans during encounters with police through the eyes of a character trapped in a time loop. Free will join international scholars and artists to discuss, debate and critically analyze media portrayals of mental distress in the 21st century.

The three-day event includes film screenings and three panels: “Uneasy Living: Climate Anxiety in Contemporary Cinema"; “The Trauma Trope”; and “Madness and Melancholy in Film and Television.” A full schedule of the talks, films and times is posted here.

Founded in 2022 with a $1 million grant from the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation and Jessy Pucker ’19, The Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab (PPSL) serves as an incubator dedicated to flipping the script on mental health portrayals in movies, television and media. Its mission is to create, support and examine original narrative screenwriting, television writing and media making centered around mental health.

“Media portrayals of mental illness significantly influence popular discourses, public health policies and embodied experiences,” says Dave Tolchinsky, founder and director of PPSL. “We want to help young filmmakers create narratives that are disruptive, thoughtful and empathetic.”

The symposium, hosted in partnership with a Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs research group exploring similar issues with a global focus, is free and open to the public. 

For Journalists: view the news release for media contacts