Movies, now a tool for altering health behaviour

Some innovative local organisations are using film to empower people to make better decisions about their health.

Dr Susan Levine is a medical and visual anthropologist based in Cape Town. In 2002 Levine partnered with an organisation called Steps for the Future (Steps) as a researcher. Steps is a non-profit organisation that uses film to educate, intervene and advocate for healthcare and social justice issues in impacted communities around Southern Africa.

Spotlight spoke to Levine on the side-lines of the AfroSurg Conference in Bellville following her presentation on community engagement and patient care. The conference explored the barriers to surgical care in South Africa and the rest of the Southern Africa region. Levine’s work with Steps has helped people in rural and under-privileged communities access healthcare including surgery.

“Over the past 20 years I’ve been finding ways to bring my passions in medical anthropology and the arts together, mostly documentary film, photography, theatre and dance,” Levine told Spotlight. “Leading up to 2002, I was already a visual anthropologist but I’d never thought I’d find that [both fields] can speak to one another. So, it was really amazing.”

Fear as barrier

Steps originally began as a way to interrupt the lack of government focus on South Africa’s HIV/AIDS crisis through documentaries and mobile cinema.

“The [Steps] films are normalising the fear, and it’s also normalising the fact that fear is bound up with love, and caring,” said Levine. “As a healthcare intervention, the idea behind the films is to say that these are really complex, painful stories.”

Levine explained that the films try to be gentle when dealing with something that may be seen as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, such as defaulting on medication or seeking treatment late. The films also refrain from judgement.

The work with Steps has changed Levine’s research trajectory after seeing the effects the films had on communities.

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