BLOG: Moving a planned discussion online

When we fixed our programme for March and April 2020, way back at the beginning of February, we planned a discussion after we screened the film System Crasher. Nora Fingscheidt’s film follows nine-year-old Benni (a superb performance from Helena Zengel), a hugely troubled child, damaged by her past and challenging the German care system at every turn. The carers who surround her are all doing their best – she is an engaging child and they all fall for her charm, while unable to contain her angry outbursts when she damages herself and all around her. The film doesn’t judge any of its protagonists – Benni, her mother and all those in the medical and care system. It recognises the difficulties and challenges and leaves us to think, and care, what might happen to Benni and those like her.

We were bowled over by the power of the film, the superb acting and the careful, documentary-based approach to its content, and wanted to share it with our audience. But we also wanted to use it to discuss what we all do as parents and how we manage the difficult phases of our children’s development. At the time we had to close the cinema two months ago, we were finalising a panel of different professionals to share a discussion after our screening of the film, planned for the end of April.

Once we had to close the cinema, we parked these thoughts, overwhelmed by what was happening to our cinema, our town, our country. But as the weeks went on, and we realised we were not going to be able to reopen any time soon, we decided to launch our first foray into an online discussion. We have all had crash courses in Zoom, Facebook and Instagram Live, webinars and Youtube discussions – and it felt like a good time to bring Saffron Screen into our audience’s homes.

We investigated Facebook Live and found that we could host a discussion there, using professional Zoom. The BFI Film Audience Network generously funded this and our planned discussion, as their New Release Strategy was supporting independent cinemas who were screening this film. So, after a couple of practice chats on Zoom/Facebook Live, we shared the information about our discussion via our website and social networks, and launched one evening last week (planned for a time so parents could participate when their children were in bed).

We were joined in our discussion by Pat Kelman, whose company 606 Distribution has brought the film to the UK, and Inger Madsen, a therapist in Saffron Walden who works particularly with children and young people and their parents. We wanted Pat to discuss the film with Inger focussing on the needs of families with complicated children, looking particularly at how to support children during the current crisis.

Pat discussed the film and how he was drawn to it by the truth, honesty and integrity in the storytelling, which had been researched by the director over more than five years. There is so much heart in the way the people in the care system do their very best, even when it isn’t enough to help Benni. The film has the authenticity of a documentary combined with careful, artistic choices, such as making pink the colour of Benni’s anger.

Inger noted that children need to be supported by listening to the emotions that underly any changes in their behaviour, accepting those emotions and helping them to process those. Teenagers are grieving – for their routines, friends, plans and sports – and are primed to want to leave home, just at a point that they can’t. She advised parents to hear that pain, acknowledge it and support them through it. But she also advised parents to look after themselves so they are able to be there for their children.

During the discussion, we were able to engage with questions posted on our Facebook site by people listening in, responding to and discussing them. Apart from an internet drop out at my house, and a noisy shout from my uni-age children, the technical aspects worked and the chat flowed for most of an hour, which is longer than we could have managed at the cinema, for practical reasons.

Inger guided parents to her website where they can sign up for her 10 Simple Solutions for child & teen stress, anger and anxiety. Pat talked about his other films, all of which are available to view online – and to look out for his forthcoming film Perfect 10.

The discussion can still be viewed on our Facebook page. We enjoyed running this new initiative and will look to do more online, while the cinema is closed. If you have any feedback, please do contact us on info@saffronscreen.com or via our social media channels.