MILAN festival promotes arts in medical teaching

There is nothing like MILAN Film Festival week at Newcastle University to bring together staff and students from medical and artistic disciplines. The MILAN Week, which 15 began February and ran through to 19 February, featured powerful and stimulating health-related films and post-discussion sessions. There was no admission fee and students were encouraged to attend as many films as they wanted.

The festival opened with the screening of Inside Out, a computer-animated film, followed by discussion of memory and emotional development in childhood and the films of Disney-Pixar. Algorithms, a documentary on the thriving but little known world of blind chess in India, was played on Tuesday.

The director Ian McDonald and Producer Geetha J took part in the post-film discussion. Other films screened included Shame (directed by Steve McQueen), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (by Schnabel) and 50/50 (by Levine).

The festival was organised by the MILAN team and sponsored by NICAP (Newcastle University Institute of Creative Arts Practice) and The MDU (Medical Defense Union).

“We should have the arts and humanities incorporated into the medical education curriculum”

Dr Eleanor Holmes, MILAN Director, told the Courier what was the primary aim of the film festival: “The purpose of MILAN week was initially to explore health-based narratives through books and films and to promote creativity and empathy in medical education.

“I believe passionately that we should have the Arts and Humanities incorporated into medical education curriculum.

“At the moment we have bits of it, but it’s not core, and I want it to be core. So this is why I organised this event trying to get into people’s heads really, trying to explain medicine through films, through music, through arts.”

The MILAN team, which consists of both staff and students, had a long and thorough preparation for the event. They explored the medical literature collection in the library to retrieve what would work best for the festival.

Sami Anjum, a final year medical student at Newcastle University, was one of the MILAN Week organisers; he told The Courier how the festival was planned: “We sat down, voted on which films would be good to demonstrate how books and films can enrich our understanding of what it is to be human. We voted what could be a good mix for a week.”

The most moving film at the festival was Shame, a tough watch about a sex addict played by Michael Fassbender and directed by Steve McQueen. Anjum was the one who suggested Shame, he explained his choice: “Shame is a really powerful portrayal of addiction. It might not to be on the top of everyone’s list, but I think the film is a powerful way of demonstrating how addiction can affect someone’s life.”

The screening was followed by a post-film discussion titled “Exploring clinical and societal perspectives on sex addiction, masculinity and the films of Steve McQueen” which involved four speakers: Dr Chris Haywood, a senior lecturer at Newcastle University, Carol Featherstone, psychosexual therapist, Luke Robson, a PhD student at Newcastle University, and Sami Anjum.

Those who came were very enthusiastic about the topic. Arms were reaching high into the air during the Q&A time with questions about sexual addiction and psychological reasons that stand behind it.

Dr Chris Haywood shared his thoughts of MILAN week: “I tell you what is really good about this festival. Different disciplines come together: artists, practitioners, some of the cultural theorists.”

“I learnt so much tonight based on those disciplines and that makes this event really important.”

The MILAN Film Festival week is increasingly looking like the place to visit and get an intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. The MILAN team intends on running the festival next year. Holmes promises that each year MILAN Week will be a whole new experience for guests.

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