How We See It

“I got an email that we won when I was sitting in a study hall,” says Luna Catalaa (left, with Lauren Asuncion), of placing fourth in the film contest. “I was so surprised.”

This adventure began at a seminar on mental health at Notre Dame High School in Salinas, during which Guidance Counselor Kristina Stone encouraged students to take part in the Directing Change film contest. It’s a project in which students make short (30 – to 60-second) films about suicide prevention or other aspects of mental health care.

Lauren Asuncion and Luna Catalaa, both 15, took the idea and ran with it – and their hard work paid off when they came in fourth place statewide for their short film Through Our Cultures’ Eyes. (There were also some honorable mentions earned by their classmates.)

Their 60-second film is a PSA of sorts, acknowledging some of the challenges that come with seeking mental health care and encouraging viewers to do it anyway. The girls both directed and acted in the short.

Asuncion and Catalaa say they just went with the flow; they had no prior experience with filmmaking. The girls were friends before the project, but during it were able to go “beyond the surface” and compare their backgrounds and experiences. They relied on their common experience of coming from immigrant families – Filipino in the case of Asuncion, and both Argentinian and Uruguayan in case of Catalaa. Their cultures, they say, share a hesitation when it comes to seeking mental health care, advocating radical self-reliance instead.

“I don’t think my peers with no immigrant background have fewer obstacles,” Catalaa says. “But I think there’s more stigma around mental health in some cultures.”

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They filmed their parts separately, incorporating family. Asuncion’s grandmother was OK with her arms being filmed, but not her face (it worked). Catalaa’s mother filmed her part, following her director daughter’s lead.

Directing Change, which is funded by county agencies and administered by the California Mental Health Services Authority, is not necessarily aimed at building future directors. Catalaa is interested in both art and math, so maybe architecture would be a good path. Asuncion doesn’t really know what to pursue in terms of career, but this project was a way to try things out and have some uncomfortable but much-needed conversations.

“I think this project is a positive thing even if it would help only one person,” Asuncion says.

This article was modified on June 2, 2022.

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