Public Health Hits the Big Screen: A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Andre Blackman

Sep 21, 2011, 5:01 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

file Andre Blackman, Fast Forward Health

Public health used to be something that happened behind the scenes and below the public consciousness. More and more, public health issues are making headlines and even coming to a theater near you, with movies like Contagion and The Interrupters. Now, public health even has a film festival to call its own.

Fast Forward Health is a film festival platform to showcase innovation in public and community health. The festival will take place November 1 at the West End Theater in Washington, DC. In advance of the festival, NewPublicHealth spoke with Andre Blackman, festival organizer, managing editor of Pulse+Signal, and director of digital communications and new media for the Mid-Atlantic American Heart Association.

NewPublicHealth: How did the idea for the Fast Forward Health film festival come about?

Andre Blackman: My interest has always been in public health innovation and new ideas and technology and thinking outside the box. One of the things that I got a little frustrated with after marinating in the public health world for a while and seeing the same thing over and over again as far as reports for issues or communities having the same tone each and every time – you know, a certain population is dying again, and they pull out the scrolling list of different diseases and conditions. I just felt there was way too much doom and gloom with public health.

Being in the social media world and being connected with individuals and projects here and across the world, I started seeing things that really excite me about the field – people standing up and making a difference. I really wanted to bring that into something that’s fun and interesting and really highlights and celebrates the innovation that’s happening. For the past year and a half I’ve been moving into the film and media world. I thought that would be a perfect intersection. I haven’t seen too many other initiatives like Fast Forward Health, celebrating these accomplishments in public health through film and video.

NPH: What themes will Fast Forward Health focus on?

Andre Blackman: The three main buckets for this first event include technology – looking at social media, mobile technology, especially in the global health scene, as well as gaming for health, which is another big movement gaining momentum. The second theme is food and access to water, and the third and final one is the built environment and community. This is something I’m really passionate about, how [changes in the way communities are set up] can ensure sustainability in public health initiatives. Communications can only go so far. If we don’t learn how to bake these initiatives into the community where it’s part of people’s lives, then the sustainability piece is non-existent.

NPH: What are some of the films you’re most excited to showcase?

Andre Blackman: Regina Holliday is going to be at the event, kicking off the built environment/community aspect. She is a fantastic patient advocate and a very gifted artist. About 2 years ago NPR did a quick video on what she’s doing, and this is more in-depth look at her work, called 73 Cents. The documentary looks at her past becoming a patient advocate and bringing about awareness to the community about the e-patient movement and how she’s been integral in that space. [Regina’s husband died from kidney cancer at age 39, and she believes that if her husband had had better access to his medical records, he would have gotten better care. She now paints murals and a "Walking Gallery" of painted jackets to advocate for healthcare reform and better access to medical records.] I’m looking forward to that being premiered at the event. Regina’s a very dear friend of mine and recently painted a jacket for me.

There are also several documentaries about food and water that I’m very excited about. Cafeteria Man is a documentary that was showcased at Silver Docs film festival in Silver Spring, MD, looking at reforming school lunch and how we start kids on a good path as far as nutrition. In technology field, I’m looking forward to letting people see Josh Nesbit’s PopTech talk. Josh is the CEO of Medic Mobile, and he’s been doing some great things around mobile health and using SMS to empower community health workers.

I only wish we had more time to show more films, but I think this will whet some appetites and I’m looking forward to making it a bigger event next year.

NPH: What role has social media played in helping to plan the conference – and how does this reflect how social media will ultimately move public health innovation forward?

Andre Blackman: Social media has played a large part in continuing to get the word out about the event, and connecting with the target audience. I really want a lot of young public health professionals and students to get connected with Fast Forward Health, so they can start seeing the kinds of individuals and initiatives that affect public health that they can get involved in. We’ll be connecting with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and following some film organizations to tap into their work. Tribeca has been doing some fantastic things and recently opened up their new media fund, as a matter of fact. I think social media will be helpful in connecting with people all over the world to find continue to find great content and highlight what they’ve been doing.

Social media is continuing to be great as far as an aid and a partner in getting great health information out, and certainly a boost for public health campaigns to help us stay connected. It’s definitely added to some longevity of public health campaigns. In the future I think it will be helpful in connecting people to causes that are important to them, and to reach people where they already are. The local community aspect is going to be vital to continue building positive and sustainable solutions, and I think social media can play a role in that.

NPH: What’s up next for you?

Andre Blackman: Kaiser [Permanente] is launching their Every Body Walk! campaign, focused on the built environment. I’ll be at the launch talking about what the American Heart Association has been doing with their Walking Paths app and why that’s important. Walking Paths is a mobile app developed by the American Heart Association that pulls in geo-location data to find great walking paths in your own neighborhood. It’s definitely a handy thing to have when you’re looking to try to explore new places and get some outdoor physical activity.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.