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VPD Film Festival: Engaging Mental Health Education for Youth

This spring, three passionate VPD officers launched one of the newest VPF-funded programs supporting youth – the VPD Film Festival. Constable Renan Cabrera, Constable Chris Birkett, and Constable Freddy Lau are addressing the overwhelming need for more youth-focused mental health resources on Vancouver’s eastside by providing a free, fun, and educational six-week film program for Templeton Secondary students.

Approximately one in seven young people in BC will experience a mental illness in their life and this number increases dramatically if a teen already faces barriers such as addiction, family challenges, or struggles with sexual identity. The VPD Film Festival will provide the knowledge and tools necessary for teens to create short films that encompass themes of mental health and addiction. After working for years supporting both youth and adults in VPD’s District 2 (which includes the Downtown Eastside), Renan, Chris and Freddy knew they wanted to do more to support youth in the neighbourhood and help break the cycle of addiction. The theme of the Film Festival was an obvious choice to each of the officers.

“We looked at the majority of the policing calls that we attend – so many are heart-breaking stories of experiences people have gone through because they didn’t have the mental health knowledge, resources or awareness to help themselves before they turned to addiction,” explains Freddy Lau, Diversity Liaison officer in the VPD’s Diversity & Inclusion Unit, and one of the founders of the VPD Film Festival.

“We want to spend meaningful time with these youth and provide the Film Festival program not only because it’s fun, but also to build awareness and provide these kids with the resources they need to increase their personal awareness and self-care.”

Through their interactions with thousands of kids and teens over the years, Freddy and his colleagues have learned that youth typically don’t realize their emotions and thoughts are mental health related. Instead, youth often perceive things as simply a negative experience and don’t think about it on a deeper level. This lack of personal awareness and mental health education is often what leads teens (and adults) to turn drugs to mask difficult emotions and thoughts.

“It’s much more complicated to be a kid these days compared to when we were growing up, so we are really trying to build an understanding and awareness in these students. We want them to know that they are not alone, we want them to be able to identify what they are experiencing, we want to provide them with valuable resources, and we want them to have the tools and knowledge to take care of themselves.”

To accomplish these goals, expert guest-speakers from both the mental health field and the film-making industry are brought in each week to work with the nearly 40 Grade 8-12 students enrolled in the program. In addition to learning about essential mental health issues, students also get a sense of what careers might be available to them in the film industry and how to work toward such a career. They’ve been learning about storyboarding, conveying emotion through different lighting, strategies around camera angles, directing, sound, and so much more.

The VPD Film Festival is also demonstrating to parents, educators, and students that police officers are just regular people who are trying to make a real difference in the lives of marginalized youth. “We are so grateful that we are able to be the people that support the students in this way and hopefully be able to positively influence the next generation,” adds Freddy.

The program is working towards an actual Film Festival to be hosted at Templeton Secondary in June where each of the participants will showcase their short films on a big screen in front of a gala audience. In fact, Templeton has played a pivotal role in making the program a success and helping the Film Festival have a positive impact on the students. Both the Vancouver Police Foundation and the three founding Constables are very grateful for Templeton’s support.

Looking ahead to next year, Freddy’s goal is to host the program at Templeton once again, but also expand to a second high school location in Vancouver. Their long-term goal is to host the VPF Film Festival in multiple high schools across Vancouver and have schools compete against each other in the Film Festival.

By presenting a positive outlet, the VPF Film Festival empowers students to express their creativity, provides an engaging educational piece, and helps to spread awareness of mental health issues to other youth.


The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.

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