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Throughout the academic year, and especially during summer break, many Penn State students watch films and TV shows to unwind from stressful academic and personal situations.

Despite some benefits of film, students have diverse perspectives on the potential impact filmography has on mental health.

Jessica Cook said entertainment through film and TV has a “big influence” on her life, especially since she can relate to a majority of the stories presented.

Cook (senior-film production) said there’s no simple way to describe a film's influence on her life since it’s simply a “powerful thing.”

She said she enjoys TV shows that are relatable: Her favorite program is “Euphoria” because it makes her “feel things.”

“There are just some things you watch — or some art you see — and they just make you self-reflect and find personal meaning and connections,” Cook said. “People have a difficult time expressing themselves and explaining things, but by watching something on TV or in film, they are able to connect with their own emotions.”

For instance, when Cook watched Disney’s animated film “Soul” with her friends, she said her best friend cried due to the emotional storyline, which showcased “the meaning of life.”

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In her own filmmaking endeavors, Cook said she decided to create a production called “Sunflower,” which will be released on June 21.

“Sunflower” focuses on the journey a person undergoes through “the five stages of grief following a [relationship] breakup,” with which she has personal experience.

By basing her film on her own emotions and experiences, Cook said she hoped to make a relatable and realistic story people could connect to. She also said she has considered how an audience may perceive the visual and auditory information in her film.

Cook said she believes those in the film industry hold a personal responsibility when considering how people will perceive their work because, “People are going to watch the film. They are going to relate to it, and [they are] going to feel emotions as a result.”

At the same time, Cook said videographers can only do so much to protect their audiences because “art is subjective,” and people will “undoubtedly” interpret the work differently based on personal experiences.

To improve and manage her own mental health, Cook said she researches new TV shows based on personal interests and seeks advice from friends who know her personal taste.

Cook said watching comedies in particular relieves stress, which is why she’s currently watching “Jane the Virgin.”

“Laughter is the best medicine in the world, so comedy is [consequently] just the best genre,” Cook said.

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However, Cook said the purpose of comedy shows is not only to provide comedic relief for audiences but also to help people learn about their lives and the world at large.

She said there have been many instances when her own personal life struggles appear in TV shows and help her solve complicated situations.

Matthew Sargent said movies and TV shows provide a wide range of mental health benefits — especially since they allow people “to feel less alone” in a world where people are easily isolated. 

“They just make you feel better,” Sargent (junior-film production) said. “There’s no better way to put it.”

Sargent said people need to broaden their horizons and try watching an array of movies from different perspectives and cultures to promote personal growth.

For Sargent, movie critic Roger Ebert was correct when he said, “The movies are like a machine that generates empathy.”

“You can really understand what someone’s going through when you watch a film,” Sargent said. “If you are going through the same thing as [characters] in the films, [those videos] can help you understand yourself or understand the world.”

Although Sargent said he believes films and TV can “lift you up,” there are also times when “they can put you down a bit,” as he said negative mental health develops from unpredicted and unpleasant circumstances. 

“Cliffhangers can really make you feel anxious sometimes, but I always try to separate the fiction from real life,” Sargent said.

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Binge-watching television shows is another behavior that can lead to negativity and a dampened mood, Sargent said.

“If you binge-watch an entire season of ‘BoJack Horseman’ in one day, you really feel like [garbage] for the rest of the week,” Sargent said.

Sargent said he believes film creators should be especially cautious when portraying challenging subjects that could startle or upset people.

“Tackling heavy subject matter — like race relations and sexual assault — cannot be tackled with such levity since it could set someone down a dark path or trigger flashbacks,” Sargent said.

Sargent said the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” was a prime example of mental health issues portrayed to audiences inefficiently.

Many students, including Rafaela Pontes, said film and TV shows should contain trigger warnings to better help people with sensitivities and traumas.

“People should be careful with what they are watching,” Pontes (sophomore-public relations) said. “Trigger warnings aren’t as common as they should be, and sometimes we end up watching [content] that isn’t good for our mental health.”

Although some shows have started including warnings more frequently, Pontes said trigger warnings should become more common and mainstream in society.

“You never know what’s going to trigger someone,” Pontes said. “You have to be really careful, or it’s just going to do more harm.”

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While Pontes has personally experienced “positive benefits” of TV and movies, she also said she recognizes the problems that come from watching certain films.

“When I’m having a bad day, I know I can go home and put on my favorite comfort movie, and I’ll feel a little bit better,” Pontes said.

However, when Pontes watched the “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” four-episode revival upon its release, she said she felt disappointed about the show’s ending — so much so that she still thinks about it today.

Pontes said the fact that TV shows and movies still impact people’s lives and invade their thoughts years after watching demonstrates their significance and lasting impact.

Marco Falcucci said watching TV shows and movies has become a regular part of people’s daily schedules, especially for college students.

“For my own personal mental health, [watching TV and movies] definitely takes the edge off and is a great form of stress relief,” Falcucci (sophomore-film production and computer science) said. “If it’s been a particularly stressful day, it’s nice to pop in a nice, old movie — get some new thoughts in the head.”

Falcucci said he believes TV shows and movies leave a lasting impact on people’s mental health and physical behaviors.

“For a lot of people, it’s not only something to do but a way to live,” Falcucci said. “They’re moral lessons that get you to think about the world around you — or barring that, they’re just fun popcorn fillers.”

When looking at the “Star Wars” series, Falcucci said the fandom surrounding the franchise can be toxic for people’s mental health especially due to unexpected plot developments and cliffhangers in the movies.

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Although a majority of Falcucci’s favorite TV shows have already concluded, he said he’s seen the negative aftermath of show cancelations and season finale cliffhangers.

“You get so invested in a story, continually wondering what’ll happen or how it’ll end,” Falcucci said. “Then, when it gets canceled, you never get an end and never get to find out the missing details.”

Falcucci said the “Game of Thrones” TV show is an example of how unfavorable endings lead to distraught fans who expected the show to end differently.

Additionally, Falcucci said many people are left “unfulfilled” when TV shows end.

Despite the impact TV and film has on people, Falcucci said many people in the industry haven’t learned the broad influence their work causes on audiences.

Besides causing mental health issues, Falcucci said TV shows can cause people to imitate unhealthy behaviors portrayed on their screens.

For instance, according to Falcucci, the number of shark killings increased following the release of “Jaws.”

Although Falcucci does not directly blame “Jaws” director Steven Spielberg for the increased shark killings, he said people in the movie industry need to be more aware of their works’ aftermath — even those that develop unintentionally.

“I’m not trying to say that [audiences] aren’t going to realize it’s a fake movie with a fake shark, but they are going to see the fake shark and think [the writers] wrote this movie because that’s what real sharks do,” Falcucci said. “But that’s not what real sharks do.”

Editor’s note: Jessica Cook is a former editor for The Daily Collegian.

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